Endodontics is the dental specialty that deals with the pulp (nerves and blood vessels) inside of the teeth. Root canal therapy is probably the most notorious procedure in dentistry and the most common procedure relating to endodontics. A tooth's pulp can become irritated, inflamed and infected due to deep decay, a crack or chip in the tooth, trauma to the tooth or to the face, or repeated extensive dental procedures on a tooth. When a tooth becomes infected it is usually related to the pulp in the root of the tooth. The infected pulp needs to be removed. If left untreated an infection can turn into an abscess, which is a much more serious problem that includes bone loss in the jaw or the spreading of infection to other areas of the face, head, neck or other parts of the body.
There are many signs and symptoms that may indicate when root canal therapy is needed. These include pain upon biting or chewing, pain with heat or cold (especially if the pain lingers after the heat or cold has been removed), swelling and tenderness in the gums or face, a persistent or recurring bump or pimple on the gums or palate, and discoloration of a tooth.
When root canal therapy is needed, the area around the tooth is numbed with a local anesthetic to start the procedure. The dentist will then create an opening in the chewing surface of the tooth that extends into the pulp chamber. The infected tissue can then be removed and the the root canals can be cleaned and shaped. After the infection has been removed, the canals are filled with a sealant called gutta percha. It is highly recommended that a back tooth that has undergone root canal therapy is fitted with a crown. This will improve the appearance of the tooth, and will also make it much more likely that the root canal is successful. Some front teeth may need a crown following root canal therapy, but often only a filling is needed.
"Root canal therapy" has become a scary term for dental patients to hear, but the benefits of the procedure and advances in dental technology have made it much less scary. Local anesthetics and proper pain medication allow the procedure to be performed with little to no pain in most cases. There may be some soreness following the procedure. Over the counter painkillers are usually enough to relieve any pain afterwards, but your dentist may prescribe medication. The procedure will also relieve you from pain caused by the infection allowing you to enjoy all the foods you love without any pain from heat, cold, or biting too hard. If you are experiencing pain consult your dentist today.