Endodontics (more commonly known as root canal therapy) is the treatment of a tooth that has diseased or injured nerve tissue. Such treatment allows someone to keep a tooth when its loss would otherwise be an inevitability.
The center of each tooth contains the dental pulp: nerves and blood vessels that allow a tooth to stay alive and vital. Teeth that are healthy are able to feel hot and cold and perceive injury such as cracks or fractures.
Decay, abscess, infection, cracks, and fractures are common ways that a tooth can become diseased or injured. When these injuries are severe enough, the tooth is unable to repair itself and the nerve inside of it dies. Once the nerve is no longer responsive, bacteria are able to invade and multiply inside and in the bone that surrounds the tooth. If undetected, the bacterial will damage the interior of the tooth and bone surrounding the tooth—often a painful condition known as an abscess.
Common signs that a tooth may need a root canals are severe sensitivity to hot and/or cold temperatures, swelling, a bump on the gums that will not go away, pain that is spontaneous, pain that is constant and not well-relieved by an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Many commonly believe that root canals are painful procedures. However the truth is that they are generally pain free and help to relieve the painful symptoms that were present before the tooth is treated with a root canal.
A root canal is a fairly simple procedure. First, a small hole is made through the chewing surface of the tooth in order to access the nerve and blood vessel within. Next, the diseased pulp tissues are removed and the inside of the tooth is thoroughly cleansed, disinfected, and shaped to hold a filling. Finally the inside of the tooth is precisely filled with a plant-based material called gutta percha. Lastly, a temporary filling is placed for several weeks to ensure that the tooth is responding well to the root canal therapy. Most of the time, a crown is needed to restore strength to the treated tooth.
Without root canal therapy, many millions of teeth would be lost to infection every year. Root canals allow once-diseased teeth to remain in their mouths and provide many years of function. You should be able to keep your tooth for many years with good home care and regular check-ups!