What is endodontics?
Endodontics is a specialized branch of dental medicine concerned with preventing, diagnosing and treating problems that affect the inside of a tooth. Endodontists specialize in treating the dental pulp, performing root canals and treating localized infections in the bone surrounding the roots of teeth.
Endodontists also specialize in mouth and face pain that is difficult to diagnose. In addition, they can usually treat dental emergencies such as infections, injuries and severe pain.
What is dental pulp?
Located at the center of the tooth, under the enamel and dentin, dental pulp is composed of canals containing nerves and blood vessels. These structures connect the tooth to the jaw tissue.
When is endodontics needed?
Endodontics, or root canals, are needed when dental pulp becomes infected. This can happen when a tooth is cracked or injured (hit, fracture, etc.), or if an untreated cavity has worsened and becomes infected. If the cavity reaches the pulp, the swelling can result in an abscess and a throbbing, painful toothache.
A root canal may be needed if you experience the following symptoms:
- Sharp, sudden, throbbing pain that keeps you up at night
- Pain that worsens when the tooth is exposed to heat or cold
- Pain that worsens when you chew
- Feeling your heartbeat inside your tooth
- Swelling or a small white spot on your gums or face, indicative of a fistula
- Swollen glands and fever
- Pain that doesn’t go away with over-the-counter painkillers
Once the pulp is affected, nerve damage is often irreversible and a simple filling won’t resolve the issue. The dentist must perform a root canal and devitalize the tooth by removing the infected nerve.
First, an x-ray is taken to see the shape and length of the canals. Then, a local anaesthetic is administered.
- The tooth is opened to access the root
- The infected pulp is removed completely
- The canals are cleaned to eliminate all bacteria
- The cavity and canals are sealed using airtight materials so that no other bacteria can penetrate
- A crown is used to restore and reinforce the tooth, though a simple restoration is possible in some cases
The tooth is devitalized but the root canal has prevented it from being extracted.
Why avoid extracting a tooth?
A root canal can save your natural tooth. When it’s possible to do so, keeping your natural teeth is always the preferred option. A devitalized tooth can still be used to chew, in addition to maintaining the balance and stability of your other teeth. A natural tooth can also keep your jawbone healthy by stimulating the tissue and muscles to strengthen and preserve bone mass.
Is it painful?
Today’s technology enables root canals to be carried out quickly and painlessly, with only the use of local anaesthetic. Because the procedure takes time, we pay special attention to keeping you comfortable. Two appointments may be needed to complete the treatment.
After the procedure, any pain should be gone. Although you may feel some sensitivity for a few days following the root canal, the prescribed painkillers should help you feel better. And, since the tooth has been devitalized, you shouldn’t feel any pain at all.
Although root canals are relatively common, do your best to avoid needing them. Never leave a cavity untreated. The sooner a cavity is detected, the simpler the treatment. And, if a cavity becomes painful, call the dentist right away.