The root canal is the space inside the tooth that, when healthy, is occupied by the tooth's pulp, a mass of connective tissue, blood vessels, and nerves collectively referred to as the tooth's "nerve." If a person's tooth has become infected, the canal gets filled up with inflamed pulp, necrotic debris, and pus, which causes increased pressure, pain, and swelling in the tooth and surrounding gum tissue. Root canal therapy (also called "endodontic therapy") is performed as an attempt to save a tooth that might otherwise require an extraction. Root canal therapy involves making a hole in the infected tooth (or crown, if one is already on the tooth), removing the diseased tissue, cleaning the canal, and then packing it with a special rubber-based material called "gutta percha" to promote healing. The hole that was drilled into the tooth or crown is reinforced and patched with composite material (called a core build-up). Because the nerve of the tooth has been removed, the tooth is no longer considered to be alive and may become brittle over time. The core build-up helps to postpone that brittleness, but eventually, if it does not already have one, the tooth should have a crown placed on it to complete the restoration.
What do root canals do?
Help with severe tooth pain
Relieve sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
Stop the discoloration or darkening of a tooth turning necrotic
Decrease swelling and tenderness in adjacent gum tissue
Help with a persistent or recurring abscess (bubble) in the gum tissue
What can I expect?
Prior to undergoing root canal therapy, you will likely have an x-ray taken of your tooth so that the shape and number of the canals can be identified. The x-ray will also help Dr. Davis determine if there is any infection in your surrounding bone. You will then be given a local anesthetic to numb the areas adjacent to your tooth. To keep your tooth dry and free of saliva, Dr. Davis will place a rubber dam (just a small sheet of rubber) around it. An access hole will then be drilled into the tooth. The infected pulp, necrotic debris, and pus will be removed from the tooth's canal using dental instruments called files. A series of these files which increase in diameter are subsequently placed into the access hole and worked down the full length of the canal to scrape and scrub its sides. More x-rays may be taken as the files are used in order to check progress. Water or sodium hypochlorite will be used periodically to flush away the debris as it comes out of the canal. Finally, the empty canal will be packed with gutta percha and sealed with a core build-up.
It is not unusual to experience post-operative pain or discomfort for several days after root canal therapy. You may even experience swelling in the gum tissue or cheek area near the treated tooth, which can last for several days. You will be given care instructions at the conclusion of your treatment, but if your swelling persists, Dr. Davis may prescribe an antibiotic to ensure that you remain infection-free.