A root canal treatment is a commonly known but often misunderstood procedure. Contrary to popular belief, these treatments aren't painful — in fact, they often stop a toothache. More importantly, a “root canal” can give a tooth on the verge of loss another lease on life.
Still, if you've never experienced a root canal treatment before, you probably have questions. Here are the answers to a few of the most common.
Why do they call it a “root canal”? This is the popular shorthand term for a procedure that removes diseased tissue from a decay-infected pulp, the innermost part of a tooth and the actual root canals themselves. Root canals are the narrow, hollow channels that run from the tip of the root to the pulp and are also involved in the procedure.
Why do I need one? Once infected, the pulp's bundles of blood vessels, nerves and other tissues become diseased. This often results in a painful toothache that can also suddenly disappear once the nerves within the pulp die. But there's still a problem: If we don't clean out the diseased and dead pulp tissue, the infection could spread through the root canals to the bone and endanger the tooth's survival.
What happens during the procedure? After deadening the tooth and surrounding gums with local anesthesia, we enter the pulp through an access hole we create. Using special instruments we remove the diseased tissue and shape the root canals to seal them with a filling material called gutta percha. Sealing the access hole is then necessary to prevent re-infection. Later we'll cap the tooth with a porcelain crown to restore its appearance and add further protection against fracture or cracking of the tooth.
Who can perform a root canal treatment? In many cases a general dentist can perform the procedure. There are some complex situations, however, that require a root canal specialist with additional training, expertise and equipment to handle these more difficult cases. If your tooth is just such a case it's more than likely your general dentist will refer you to an endodontist to make sure you get the right kind of care to save it.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Tooth decay can wreak more havoc than just producing cavities. It can work its way into the innermost parts of the tooth — the pulp and tiny passageways called root canals that lead to the tooth's connection with the bone.
If that happens, you'll need more than “drilling and filling.” Without intervention, your tooth could be lost. That intervention is a root canal treatment, a procedure that removes the infection from within the tooth and preserves it from re-infection.
You've probably heard the old belief that root canal treatments are painful. With modern anesthetic techniques to deaden pain, that's not true. In fact, root canal treatments stop the pain caused by infected nerves within the pulp and root canals. More importantly, it saves your tooth.
Root canals can be performed by a general dentist. More extensive decay or complex root canal networks may require the services of an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in root canal anatomy and treatments. Endodontists have advanced techniques and equipment to handle even the most difficult case.
Regardless of who performs it, the basic procedure is the same, as is the goal: to completely remove all diseased tissue within the tooth and seal it with a special filling to prevent re-infection. To access the diseased pulp, we first drill an access hole, usually in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back of a front tooth. We then use specialized instruments to remove the infected tissue and flush out the space with antibacterial solutions.
We then insert a filling called gutta percha into the empty pulp chamber and root canals, seal off the filling with adhesive cement, and close the access hole with filling. These fillings and sealants prevent bacteria from reentering the tooth. For added protection against infection and fracturing, we also recommend placing a full-coverage dental crown. This also enhances the appearance of the tooth, which must be modified during the root canal procedure.
The end result: your once endangered tooth has been preserved for hopefully many years to come. So if we recommend you undergo a root canal treatment, don't wait — the tooth you save may be your own.
It's no exaggeration — dental implants have revolutionized teeth replacement. Life-like and durable, implants are the closest thing in design and function to a natural tooth.
In fact, there's only one thing better than a dental implant — a real tooth. For function and long-term oral health, you can't beat what nature provided you in the first place. So before you finally decide to remove and replace that problem tooth, consider these other options for saving it.
Root canal therapy. Tooth decay can do more than cause cavities — it can work its way into the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. If it isn't stopped here, it could continue on to the roots and put the tooth in real danger of loss. A root canal treatment removes the infection from the pulp and root canals and replaces the space with a filling. A life-like crown is then bonded or cemented to the tooth to protect it from further infection.
Aggressive treatment for periodontal (gum) disease. This other dental disease is just as damaging as tooth decay. Caused by bacterial plaque, the gums around a tooth become infected and inflamed. As it moves deeper into the tissues and inflammation progresses, it can affect supporting bone causing it to dissolve. To prevent this potential bone loss, it's important to seek out and remove hidden pockets of plaque. This may require surgery to access the roots for plaque and calculus (tartar) removal, but it's well worth it to preserve the tooth.
Bone grafting. As mentioned before, gum disease can ultimately lead to bone loss. But even when bone loss has occurred (a substantial threat to a tooth's survival) we may be able to reverse it with bone grafting techniques. During this procedure we insert grafting material at the loss site along with substances that stimulate growth. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Over time the bone volume increases and helps stabilize a weak tooth.
Of course, your best option is to avoid dental disease in the first place with daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. That and treating dental disease in its earliest stages will help ensure you'll have the best teeth possible — your own.
If you would like more information on options for treating diseased teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Let’s say you’re traveling to Italy to surprise your girlfriend, who is competing in an alpine ski race… and when you lower the scarf that’s covering your face, you reveal to the assembled paparazzi that one of your front teeth is missing. What will you do about this dental dilemma?
Sound far-fetched? It recently happened to one of the most recognized figures in sports — Tiger Woods. There’s still some uncertainty about exactly how this tooth was taken out: Was it a collision with a cameraman, as Woods’ agent reported… or did Woods already have some problems with the tooth, as others have speculated? We still don’t know for sure, but the big question is: What happens next?
Fortunately, contemporary dentistry offers several good solutions for the problem of missing teeth. Which one is best? It depends on each individual’s particular situation.
Let’s say that the visible part of the tooth (the crown) has been damaged by a dental trauma (such as a collision or a blow to the face), but the tooth still has healthy roots. In this case, it’s often possible to keep the roots and replace the tooth above the gum line with a crown restoration (also called a cap). Crowns are generally made to order in a dental lab, and are placed on a prepared tooth in a procedure that requires two office visits: one to prepare the tooth for restoration and to make a model of the mouth and the second to place the custom-manufactured crown and complete the restoration. However, in some cases, crowns can be made on special machinery right in the dental office, and placed during the same visit.
But what happens if the root isn’t viable — for example, if the tooth is deeply fractured, or completely knocked out and unable to be successfully re-implanted?
In that case, a dental implant is probably the best option for tooth replacement. An implant consists of a screw-like post of titanium metal that is inserted into the jawbone during a minor surgical procedure. Titanium has a unique property: It can fuse with living bone tissue, allowing it to act as a secure anchor for the replacement tooth system. The crown of the implant is similar to the one mentioned above, except that it’s made to attach to the titanium implant instead of the natural tooth.
Dental implants look, function and “feel” just like natural teeth — and with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Although they may be initially expensive, their quality and longevity makes them a good value over the long term. A less-costly alternative is traditional bridgework — but this method requires some dental work on the adjacent, healthy teeth; plus, it isn’t expected to last as long as an implant, and it may make the teeth more prone to problems down the road.
What will the acclaimed golfer do? No doubt Tiger’s dentist will help him make the right tooth-replacement decision.
If you have a gap in your grin — whatever the cause — contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation, and find out which tooth-replacement system is right for you. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Primary (baby) teeth might not last long, but their impact can last a lifetime. Their first set of teeth not only allows young children to eat solid foods, but also guide permanent teeth to form and erupt in the proper position.
Unfortunately, primary teeth aren't immune to tooth decay. If the decay is extensive, the tooth may not last as long as it should. Its absence will increase the chances the permanent teeth won't come in correctly, which could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that's costly to correct.
If a primary tooth is already missing, we can try to prevent a malocclusion by installing a “space appliance.” This keeps nearby teeth from drifting into the empty space intended for the permanent tooth. The best approach, though, is to try to save a primary tooth from premature loss.
We can often do this in much the same way as we would with a permanent tooth — by removing decayed material and filling the prepared space. We can also perform preventive applications like topical fluoride or sealants that strengthen or protect the tooth.
It becomes more complicated, though, if the pulp, the interior of the tooth, becomes decayed. The preferred treatment for this in a permanent adult tooth is a root canal treatment. But with a primary tooth we must also consider the permanent tooth forming below it in the jaw and its proximity to the primary tooth. We need to adapt our treatment for the least likely damage to the permanent tooth.
For example, it may be best to remove as much decayed structure as possible without entering the pulp and then apply an antibacterial agent to the area, a procedure known as an indirect pulp treatment. We might also remove only parts of the pulp, if we determine the rest of the pulp tissue appears healthy. We would then dress the wound and seal the tooth from further infection.
Whatever procedure we use will depend on the extent of decay. As we said before, our number one concern is the permanent tooth beneath the primary. By focusing on the health of both we can help make sure the permanent one comes in the right way.
If you would like more information on caring for children's primary teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Treatment for Children's Teeth.”
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