Human teeth are made up of several layers. The outer layer is the hard enamel, covering the dentin, a material that’s also pretty tough and hard. The inner part of the tooth is the root, which is usually filled with a soft material called pulp. The pulp is made up of blood vessels, connective tissues, and nerves.
While the teeth are developing, it’s the pulp that aids in the formation of the dentin and enamel. Once the teeth are fully developed, the pulp no longer serves a purpose, but it remains inside the root of the tooth.
Should something happen to the tooth, such as a cavity that’s left untreated, a traumatic injury that breaks or cracks a tooth, or an infection, there’s a chance that the pulp will become inflamed or infected. Infected or inflamed pulp can cause severe pain, increased sensitivity, swelling and changes in the color of the tooth.
Depending on the severity of the tooth’s infection or inflammation, the best way to deal with it might be to remove the pulp. The procedure for removing natural tooth pulp and cleaning out the root of a tooth is known as a root canal or endodontic treatment.
Most people are fearful of having a root canal, as they are worried that the procedure will cause pain and discomfort. The opposite is usually true, though. A root canal can be the step that eases chronic discomfort and ultimately saves the tooth.
What a Root Canal Does
The goal of a root canal is usually to save a badly infected or otherwise damaged tooth. The procedure removes decay and damaged or infected pulp from inside the tooth’s root. Once the pulp is removed, a dental professional, usually an endodontist, cleans the root chamber and fills it in. The procedure is completed by placing a cap or crown over the top of the tooth.
What Happens During a Root Canal
A root canal is usually a multi-step process. To get the procedure started, an endodontist typically takes a picture of the tooth, so that they can see where the damage is. They will then give the patient an anesthetic to numb the area so that they don’t feel anything while the endodontist is working.
Once the area around the tooth is numb, the dentist will open up the top of the tooth, so that they can get to the inside area. Depending on the condition of the tooth, the dentist might first need to remove areas of decay before cutting into the root. Working inside the tooth, the dentist will remove the pulp.
After the pulp is gone, it’s important for the root to be thoroughly cleaned before the dentist fills it in. Usually, the root will be rinsed with water multiple times to wash away any remaining pulp. It’s also likely that the dentist will flush the area out with an antibacterial solution.
Once the root has had time to dry completely, the dentist will fill it in. Typically, gutta percha, a material that’s like rubber, is used to fill in the root. The filling is important as it will keep bacteria from getting into the tooth’s root in the future.
To finish up the root canal, the dentist usually places a temporary filling. The temporary filling will be in place while a permanent crown is being created. This is typically placed during a follow-up visit.
What Happens After a Root Canal
Once the permanent crown is in place, the treated tooth should look and feel just like the other teeth in the mouth. Patients might notice some sensitivity during the first few days after crown placement. If the sensitivity keeps up for more than a few days, however, patients should check in with their dentist.
It’s usually recommended that patients see their dentist for follow-up treatment, to monitor the health of the tooth, and to help keep the tooth as clean as possible. Establishing or maintaining a consistent oral care routine at home is also essential for the health of the tooth after a root canal.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also provides dental cleanings, exams, and dental implants. If needed, he can refer patients to an endodontist for root canal treatment. To learn more about his practice in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 to schedule a consultation today