My dentist has found that I have a dead tooth and need a root canal. What exactly is a root canal and why is it necessary?

Most people have heard of the term “root canal” but there are a lot of misconceptions about what this procedure actually entails.

A person’s tooth has many layers with the innermost being the pulp – commonly referred to as the nerve.  In a healthy tooth this is a narrow chamber and canals filled with blood vessels and nerves that keep the tooth “alive”.

Several problems can lead to the disease or death of these tissues.  Most commonly a very deep cavity or deep crack lines in the tooth are to blame, both of which can cause inflammation in this tissue and bacterial contamination. Dental trauma can also result in damage to the pulp tissue that can require a root canal treatment.

A tooth ache often follows though not always. In some cases the tooth hurts…only much later… or not at all. An abscess(infection) is seen only much later on an x-ray (radiograph) or when a person develops swelling in the area.

Root canal therapy involves first getting the tooth numb, then cleaning out the canals with special file systems to remove the diseased or dead tissues.  Once this is complete, the canals are filled to help prevent bacteria from growing in them and the tooth needs to be repaired where damaged.

Most commonly a crown is placed over the tooth to strengthen it and help reduce the chance of breakage in the future.

It is very important to address infection in a tooth as it can lead to serious and even occasionally fatal consequences.  Antibiotics are often needed in the short term but are not a permanent solution due to the internal anatomy of a tooth.  A root canal or the removal of the tooth is required to allow the body to heal.

It should be noted that any swelling or pain in the mouth or face must be examined as soon as possible by a dentist or a medical doctor to evaluate the cause and initiate antibiotics or definitive treatment as needed.

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