Of all endodontic treatment procedures, root canals are the most common procedure. Root canals become necessary when nerve tissue inside the tooth degenerates due to an infection. Without a root canal, your infection will continue to spread, and can even damage your jawbone. A root canal saves the tooth, while stopping the infection—ensuring a healthy tooth. Your tooth may have become irritated and inflamed due to big fillings, trauma to the tooth (such as chipping), repeated dental work, or deep decay.
If you have a repeated toothache, and/or if the gums adjacent to the tooth are tender and swollen, then you may need a root canal. Another symptom that you might need a root canal is if your tooth has become discolored, and has become extra sensitive to cold and heat. If your dentist reveals an inflamed or infected pulp inside your tooth, then your dentist may recommend a root canal.
There are four basic steps to a root canal. First, a dentist studies the X-rays of your tooth, and administers a local anesthetic. Second, the dentist creates an opening in the crown of your tooth, and removes the infected nerve tissue. During this stage, the inside of the tooth is cleaned thoroughly preventing further infection, and the root canal cavity is sealed off preventing bacteria and fluids from entering the cavity. Third, the empty root canal is filled with an adhesive cement mixture and gutta-percha. Finally, a new crown is placed over the tooth, allowing it to function normally.
Once a root canal is completed, you will likely feel some discomfort for a few days. Over-the-counter pain medication is recommended. If the pain becomes too severe, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic and prescription-strength pain reliever. After the procedure, a patient must never chew on directly on the repaired tooth before final restoration—or it could crack. Restoration must occur as soon as possible, or more bacteria can re-infect the treated canal, requiring another root canal. There are small risks associated with having a root canal. Occasionally, the root can fracture. Other times, a good seal may not be achieved over the root. In some instances, a hidden root, or an extra canal that are in need of treatment are missed. However, these instances are rare.