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What is root canal therapy?

A root canal is a treatment of the pulp of the tooth that is inflamed, infected, or dead. A specialist—an endodontist—is usually brought in to perform the therapy to save the tooth. Endodontic treatment involves opening the tooth, removing the damaged pulp, cleaning, shaping, filling, and then sealing the tooth. Depending upon how much infection lies in the injured tooth, you may be put on medication before the endodontist begins work.

Why is a root canal necessary?

Nothing gets our attention like pain. And in this case, that’s a good thing. An abscessed tooth—infection that forms when the pulp of the tooth dies—left untreated will continue to grow, infecting the bone around the root of the tooth, and may spread into surrounding bone and tissues. Antibiotics can help keep the infection from spreading, but the only way to completely remove the infection is by performing root canal therapy and cleaning out all the dead tissue and bacteria inside the pulp chamber and root canals.

What happens during a root canal?

After the tooth is numbed and a rubber dam placed over the mouth, an opening is made through the top of the tooth and the pulp is removed from the chamber and canals. The canals are then cleaned and shaped to make sure all the infected tooth structure is removed and that adequate room exists for a root canal filling.

The canals are filled with a rubber-like material called gutta percha, the same substance used to make golf balls a century ago. Finally, the material is surrounded by a sealing paste. After the root canal is completed, the tooth will likely need a crown to protect it from fracturing in the future. Also, it will be helpful to chew food on the opposite side of the mouth for a few days following the root canal to give the bone and tissues around the tooth time to heal.