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Root canal is the treatment to save an infected or a damaged tooth. When a tooth is endodontically (interior structure of a tooth) in a bad situation, the pulp, the vital part of teeth made up of living tissues, can be infected or damaged. This pulp damage needs endodontic treatment, also known as dental root canal treatment, to restore the health of the tooth.
What is a root canal?
Root canal treatment is the dental procedure to clean the canals inside the root of your tooth. There are canal spaces in the root of each tooth. If a tooth has two roots, it has two canal spaces or if the tooth is single-rooted, it has one canal space. Inside these root canals and to the top part of the tooth (the crown), there is the dental pulp, the brain of your tooth.
The pulp is a soft living tissue that contains the nerves and the blood vessels. If a tooth is damaged or cracked due to cavities or dental injuries, the pulp will be exposed to bacteria and infections. When left untreated, your pulp will become necrotic (dead) and finally the tooth is lost.
When do you need a root canal?
It may be difficult to know if you need a root canal treatment or not. But you will not have any doubt once you talk to your dentist about the symptoms and take the X-rays and CT scans of your teeth. The damaged pulp is inside your tooth, and you should look for the signs and symptoms of the damaged pulp. Knowing what destroys the pulp inside your tooth can be helpful to know if you are eligible for root canal therapy.
The common causes of pulp damage are:
- Tooth decay and caries that get deep into the tooth, causing pulp infection
- A dental injury
- Fractured or cracked tooth, which leaves the pulp exposed to bacteria
- Several dental restorations performed on the same tooth
- Abnormal or congenital conditions
Signs and symptoms that you may need a root canal therapy:
- pain in the tooth, which can be sharp, spontaneous or lingering that can be triggered by chewing and pressures
- pain and sensitivity in response to temperature changes. For example, by eating hot or cold foods and drinks.
- Swelling and inflammation in the gum and the connective tissues near the damaged pulp
A tip to remember: some people may be asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms at all, so a dental visit can always assure you of your diseased pulp and overall dental health.
How is the root canal procedure done?
Your endodontist or dentist takes X-rays, CT or other necessary radiographic images to check the pulp and root canals. Then a root canal treatment is scheduled. The procedure may take 1 or 3 visits to be completed depending on the difficulty of the surgery.
Steps of root canal treatment:
- Anesthesia is applied
Like other dental surgeries, you will be given anesthetics to feel numb in your gums and the tooth and to prevent any feeling of pain.
- Pulp removal and root canal cleaning
Your dentist drills a hole from the top of the tooth. The infected pulp tissue is removed. The canals are cleaned from any abscess, infection or debris. To disinfect the canals thoroughly and eliminate any chance of infection rise, your dentist applies antibiotics. If there is a need for reshaping the pulp chambers, it is done. You will need healthy root canals for filling materials.
- Sealing the tooth
Once the cleaning is done, the tooth is sealed off by a temporary filling material and a sterile sponge. This stage is to prevent saliva or bacteria in the mouth from leaking into the root canals.
- Permanent filling
Then the canals are filled with a rubber-like material. Filling materials have anti-bacterial and biocompatibility features. The capability of the filling materials to tightly fill the empty spaces in the root canals results in sealing the root canals completely. This is why filling materials like gutta-percha and zinc oxide-eugenol-based sealing cements have proven to be successful root canal filling.
- The tooth is restored
In the final stage, your dentist will retore the tooth. They may retore a dental crown completely by porcelain or porcelain-fused to metal material. For moderate endodontically diseased teeth, dental filling materials like amalgam or composite resin are common restorative options.
If the tooth has little remaining structure to hold a crown, you will need post and core system. This is done through a metal post placement in the root canal. This restorative technique is great for the core material retention.
Does a root canal hurt?
Root canal therapy is not painful during the procedure because it is done under local anesthesia. Your dentist applies numbing agents and you will have a pain-free procedure. The effect of the anesthetics may wear off within hours after roots canal therapy, so you can take over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Do not overuse and ask your dentist about the dosage. You may have slight sensitivity and pain within several days after your root canals, and it is normal for any oral and dental surgery. But if the pain persists for more days and is unbearable, call your dentist and have an appointment immediately.
Root canal aftercare
- If antibiotics are applied and you need another visit to have your root canals completed, follow what the dentist says to avoid any contamination in your mouth and teeth
- Eat and drink carefully during the early days after the root canal therapy. Watch out for the restored tooth and avoid eating hot or cold foods and drinks for a while.
- Do the routine brushing and oral hygiene activities
- Visit your dentist at the follow-up sessions. The regular appointments after your canal will ensure a risk-free time.
How much does a root canal cost?
The cost of root canals varies depending on the tooth (back or front teeth), the dental office location and other factors. You may anticipate higher prices if insurance does not cover your root canal treatment. Keep in mind that the cost of root canal does not include the restoration of the tooth, the crown that is made on top.
Also, some general dentists may not perform canal for the molar (back) teeth due to difficulty or more training that this procedure requires. Therefore, you will be referred to an endodontist, and usually the price adds up by 50 % increase in such case.
The average cost of root canal therapy:
Front teeth (incisors): $500-$1000
Back teeth (molars): $800-$1500 A tip to remember: The average price for a root canal with insurance coverage can be reduced by 50 percent in some insurance providers. For example, your payment may be around $300 to $500 for a tooth that normally costs $1000.