You Can Save Your Tooth With A Root Canal


As a dentist, I am committed to restorative dental care for all my patients. In an earlier time, the treatment for a painful and dying tooth was extraction. Today dentists try to help older patients keep their natural teeth as long as possible. A common dental procedure – the root canal – is used to give an inflamed or infected tooth a second chance. A root canal procedure can save a tooth.

Although a root canal can happen at any age, they tend to be more common in people over forty who have had restorative dental work. Crowns and fillings weaken and deteriorate with the daily wear and tear on your teeth of chewing and personal habits. Certain medications cause a condition called dry mouth in which the neutralizing effect of saliva is reduced, increasing the risk of decay.

Why Is a Root Canal Necessary?

Tooth decay is the main reason patients need root canals. If a cavity becomes large enough, it can enter your pulp chamber or nerve. If bacteria enters this chamber, it causes pain, and sometimes, an infection. As a result, a root canal is needed to save your tooth and reduce pain.

If your tooth cracks or breaks, there’s also a good chance you’ll need a root canal — trauma to your tooth can also expose your pulp chamber, damage your nerve and cause pain. Again, the nerve will need to be removed to salvage your tooth.

Each tooth has between one and three roots. Dental nerves run up these roots and into the center of the tooth, into the area called the pulp chamber.  The pulp that is damaged breaks down, and allows bacteria to multiply within the pulp chamber, causing an infection or abscessed tooth. During root canal therapy, the pulp is removed, and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed.

How Can I Tell if I Need Root Canal Therapy?

Signs that you may need root canal therapy:

  1. Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
  2. Prolonged sensitivity (pain) to hot or cold temperatures
  3. Discoloration (darkening) of the tooth
  4. Swelling and tenderness in nearby gums
  5. A persistent or a recurring pimple on the gums

What Does The Procedure Involve?

Your dentist might refer you to a specialist – an endodontist – for root canal therapy.

Root canal therapy requires one or more office visits. Before starting the surgical procedure, an X-ray will be taken to see the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs of infection in the surrounding bone.

First, the tooth and surrounding area are numbed using an anesthetic which will last for the entire procedure. A dental dam will be used to isolate the tooth and prevent debris from falling into your mouth as the dentist works.

Next, the endodontist will create a hole through the top of the tooth to access the roots. The pulp and nerves will be removed using a series of tiny files. The tooth will be flushed periodically to keep out bacteria and debris.

After the pulp and nerves are removed from all roots, the empty canals will be sealed. A filling (possibly a temporary one) will be placed in the remainder of the tooth cavity. It’s common to need a dental crown after a root canal procedure. The tooth usually is one that had a large filling or extensive decay or other weakness. A crown will be placed on the tooth to protect it, prevent it from breaking, and restore it to full function.

How Should I Care for My Tooth After Surgery?

Most people immediately experience less pain. The root canal therapy relieves the source of pain from the infected or damaged tooth. Mild discomfort is common after the anesthesia wears off and can be managed with over the counter pain reliever. The post-surgical pain wears off after a few hours.

Until your root canal procedure is finished, with the permanent filling or crown in place, it’s wise to avoid chewing on the tooth under repair. The tooth is weaker than it was and could easily break. Contact your dental office immediately if the temporary crown or filling becomes loose or falls out.

Remember,  healthy teeth make a healthy smile!

Dr. Nishan Halim


Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in adult comprehensive restorative dentistry in his Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. When treatment plans include specialty work, he coordinates every step with the practitioners you choose from his referral network. Contact Dr. Halim to schedule an appointment.

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