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Root Canal Procedures Can Save Your Teeth

Mention the words "root canal" to most people, and watch the response. They cringe. Some of us would do almost anything to avoid a root canal procedure. But the procedure really isn’t so bad.2

Root canal procedures came to be dreaded because decades ago the treatment was painful.2 But now a root canal procedure is no more dramatic than a routine filling.2 And the procedure saves more than 17 million teeth a year,2 with most patients experiencing little discomfort.3 Without root canal procedures, patients would lose the affected teeth, leaving them to choose between an empty space in the mouth, a removeable denture, a bridge, or an implant.2

Most people would rather have a root canal procedure than lose a tooth.6 It’s best if your natural teeth can be saved,2 and a root canal procedure can usually do that in one to three office visits.4,5

What is a root canal procedure? It’s a procedure in which your dentist or an endodontist removes the source of tooth pain—the inflamed pulp tissue deep inside the tooth crown and roots. The pulp contains the nerve to the tooth as well as the often-throbbing blood vessels. The pulp is removed from the crown and roots of the tooth leaving an empty space that is cleaned, filled with a rubbery compound, and sealed.3 The space within the roots is called the canal, hence the term "root canal" procedure. After the procedure, antibiotics are sometimes given to prevent or control infection.5,7

In recent years, advances have made root canal treatment more efficient. Local anesthetics have been improved, and the instruments used to ream, or clean, the inside of the tooth are very small.3

The most common reasons for needing root canal treatment are:

  • Infection or painful inflammation from deep decay that is in the tooth’s pulp3

  • Tooth damage, such as a crack or chip caused by an injury3

  • A tooth that has had a lot of restorative work3

Your dentist or endodontist may suspect a problem if you are experiencing pain, your tooth is sensitive to cold or heat, your tooth is tender when you are chewing, or your tooth is discolored. Sometimes, however, you will have no symptoms. 3

Most abscessed or infected teeth undergoing a root canal procedure are saved, according to the American Association of Endodontists.3 Many of these teeth go on to last a lifetime.2

Prevention, of course, is your best bet. Take care of your teeth—brush gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line; floss at least once a day; see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings;1 and do your best to avoid trauma to your mouth.3

1 “Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums.” American Dental Association. Accessed 2010.

2 “Myths About Root Canals.” American Association of Endodontists, 2008. Accessed 2010.

3 “Root Canal Treatment.” American Association of Endodontists, 2008. Accessed 2010.

4 Endodontic Treatment (Root Canal Treatment).” American Dental Association. Accessed 2010.

5 Endodontic Treatment (Root Canal Treatment): Frequently Asked Questions.” American Dental Association. Accessed 2010.

6 “Dental Implants and Root Canals.” American Association of Endodontists, 2008. Accessed 2010.

7 “Root Canal.”U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, February 22, 2010. 2010.

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