Root Canals


Long held by comedians and pundits as the ultimate in pain, the root canal is quite the opposite – a way to avoid and alleviate pain and save otherwise hopeless teeth.

When one of your teeth gets injured or infected, the soft tissues, blood vessels and nerves that lie in its center, called the pulp, also become damaged. This can result in the death of both tooth and pulp, and, in days past, forced dentists to extract the tooth. Advanced technology available today has made it possible to save teeth injured or infected in this way.

When the pulp is infected, it loses vitality – in effect the pulp dies. The most common causes of pulp death are cracked tooth, deep cavity, or traumatic injury to the tooth, which allows bacteria and its products to leak into the pulp. This can result in an abscess forming at end of the root, causing pain and swelling.

If the injured or diseased pulp is not removed, the tissues surrounding the root of the tooth can also become infected, resulting in more pain and swelling. Even if there is no pain damage the bone that holds the tooth in the jaw can occur. To save such a tooth dentists may perform a root canal. Treatment may involve several visits, but often the procedure can be done in one visit.

First an opening is made through the crown of the tooth into the pulp chamber. Local anesthesia is usually given prior to this step so that there is no pain during treatment. The pulp is then removed from both the pulp chamber and root canal. The canal is cleaned, enlarged and shaped.

The root canal is then filled and permanently sealed with a natural, biocompatible material. A temporary filling may then be placed until the tooth can be restored. That’s it.

Restoration of a tooth that has had root canal treatment at subsequent visits may require a metal or plastic rod or post placed in the root canal for structural support, if there has been considerable tooth structure loss, followed by a crown. A crown is made of porcelain or metal alloy and is usually placed over the tooth to restore structure, function and appearance.

Your Michigan Dental Association dentist can discuss your treatment options when a root canal contemplated and either perform the treatment or refer you to a root canal specialist, an Endodontist, for your care. Either way, root canal therapy is a simple and effective way to save teeth that otherwise would be lost.