Getting to the Root of Root Canal Procedures
Root canal. The words are enough to make many people cringe. The procedure is often feared, but it sounds much worse than it really is. Most root canal procedures are straightforward and cause little or no discomfort. Even better, they often save teeth that otherwise would be lost due to disease or injury.1 The most common reasons for needing a root canal procedure are physical trauma, deep cavities and cracked teeth.2
How a Root Canal Procedure Can Help
Because of its name, many people think a root canal procedure involves taking the root out of a tooth. But that’s not the case. Instead, it involves removing the soft tissue inside a tooth, called pulp. This pulp contains tiny blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue.3,4 When pulp tissue becomes diseased or damaged, it can die. If the dead pulp isn’t removed, the tooth can get infected, causing pain and swelling that worsen until you have a dental emergency. At that point, your dentist may need to pull the tooth.2,3
But when the problem is addressed sooner, tooth loss can often be prevented. A root canal procedure removes the diseased pulp. First, the interior of the tooth is cleaned and shaped to receive a special filling material. Medication may be put into the tooth to kill any germs. Then the tooth is filled, usually with a rubber-like material (called gutta percha), and sealed for protection. In the final step, the dentist covers the tooth2,3,4 with an artificial crown or cap, to make it stronger. The whole process usually takes one to three visits.1
Root Canal Specialists
Your regular dentist might perform your root canal procedure. But in other cases, you may be referred to an endodontist,3 a dentist who specializes in treating the inside of the tooth.4 Endodontists have at least two years of advanced training beyond dental school, including specialized training in the use of anesthesia.5
According to the American Association of Endodontists, more than 17 million root canal procedures are performed by dental professionals each year. This safe and effective procedure is often the best way to save a tooth—and your smile.5
1 “Endodontic (Root Canal Treatment): Overview.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/2890.aspx?currentTab=2 Accessed 2010.
2 “Endodontic Treatment (Root Canal): Frequently Asked Questions.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/2890.aspx?currentTab=2 Accessed 2010.
3 “What Is a Root Canal?” Academy of General Dentistry, February 2007. www.agd.org/public/oralhealth/Default.asp?IssID=326&Topic=R&ArtID=1310 Accessed 2010.
4 “Root Canal Treatment.” American Association of Endodontists. www.aae.org/patients/patientinfo/faqs/rootcanals.htm Accessed 2010.
5 “Statement Regarding Safety of Root Canals and Anesthesia.” American Association of Endodontists. www.aae.org/patients/pressroom/RCTandAnes.htm Accessed 2010.