What is a root canal and root canal procedure

Have you ever heard of the root canal procedure, did you know that millions of teeth are saved annually because of this procedure?

Read on to learn about this kind of oral treatment.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is the occurring space inside the root of a tooth which consists of the dental pulp. Most roots have at least one canal, but some have more than one.


The sub parts of a root canal

The root canal also have different parts inside which are called the sub parts.

Below is the following sub parts located inside a root canal:

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  • The dental pulp

The dental pulp (soft substance) also called as the nerve tissue, is the space inside the root canal filled with loose connective tissues located in the central part of the tooth.

It is the tissue where the dentin (the white and hard-layered enamel) part of the tooth is. The pulp ranges from the tooth’s crown down to the tip of the root canals which is surrounded by tissues.

The dental pulp aids in the formation of the permanent set of teeth, also called as adult teeth or secondary teeth. It also contributes to the tooth’s health and structure which makes the teeth strong and less prone to oral cavities.

The pulp consists of nerves which lie in the root canals located within the “legs” or roots of the tooth.

Bet you did not know, the tooth’s nerves does not play any important role regarding a tooth’s health.

However, this only serves as a sensory neuron which provides the sensation of hot, cold, and pain. The existence and/or absence do not in any way, affect the tooth’s health and functions.

  • The pulp chamber

The dental pulp and the pulp chamber is not the same. The pulp chamber is the shallow part which contains the pulp, blood vessels, and connective tissues which make the teeth strong.

Did you know that, even in the absence of the pulp, a fully developed tooth can survived? It is because of the connective tissues which surround a tooth that contributes to its nourishment.

It is located in the coronal part of the tooth. This travels down the root canals and throughout the teeth’s roots and in the surrounding bones.


Image source : Wikipedia by author Avsnarayan shared under CC BY-SA 3.0

When is root canal procedure needed?

About 95% of root canal treatments are highly successful. Many patients’ teeth are saved from future fractures and the treatment’s results are good for a lifetime.

Signs that you need root canal procedure

Do you know what the signs are if you need to undergo root canal treatment? You must not take your tooth for granted if it ever aches or else you will suffer the following…

Below are the signs that you are in need of a root canal treatment:

  • Severe toothache when chewing or when the affected area is pressured.
  • Tenderness when touched.
  • Sensitivity of the lymph nodes.
  • Prolonged sensitivity of sensory neurons (hot and cold sensation).
  • Decaying (darkening) of the tooth.
  • Nearby gums on the infected tooth is swelling.
  • Spotted pimples on the nearby gums.

However, some people do not in any way experience such signs.

The root canal infection

A root canal treatment is really needed to avoid further infections.

Below are the symptoms of root canal infection:

  • Swelling of the tooth and gums. This can also spread throughout the face, neck, or worst your entire head.
  • Bone damage on the roots’ tips.
  • Unwanted drainage complications where a hole can be form at the side of the tooth. The unwanted drainage will then form a way into the gums and throughout the cheek.


Image source : Wikipedia by author Jeremy Kemp shared under CC BY-SA 3.0

Causes of an infected tooth

An infected or inflamed tooth needs to undergo root canal treatment also.

What are the causes of an infected tooth anyway? Below are the following:

  • Deep tooth decay.
  • Repetitive dental procedures performed on the tooth.
  • Cracked or chipped tooth

The tooth’s damaged pulp and nerve

The damaged pulp or nerve when not removed will cause oral infection due to the bacteria which spreads inside the pulp chamber. The spreading of bacteria will caused an abscessed tooth– an abscessed tooth prefers to a pus-filled compact found at the end part of the root.

The root canal procedure

Now that you know the different parts of a root canal, let us now proceed about the treatment. In this chapter, we will tackle how the root canal treatment is performed and whose specialist to visit.

The endodontist

Who will you run to for the root canal treatment to be performed? Asides from the usual dentist…the person you will run to for this kind of dental service is none other than the endodontist.

Endodontist are dentists who specializes their dental education by studying for two more years. Unlike general dentists who perform RCT on two patients per week, endodontists perform root canal treatments on 25 patients per week.

They focus their training and practices to endodontic procedures to be a success in their field. Thus, endodontists guarantees their patients for faster recovery and a good service.

In addition, an endodontist’s clinic uses modern dental facilities and equipment such as:

  • Specialized microscopes for dental purposes only.
  • Digital imaging.
  • Ultrasonic instrumentation.
  • Fiber optics.

With the help of these modernized dental technologies, patients are ensured that when they undergo root canal treatment… the patients will feel less or no more pain at all.

About the root canal procedure

Root canal treatment (RCT) also called as endodontic is a therapy used to fix and save a decaying tooth. It also serves as the treatment for the tooth’s nerves.

The word endodontic comes from the word “endo”, it is a Greek word for inside and “odont” is a Greek word for tooth. A root canal is the most common type of endodontic treatment.

This type of procedure is performed only when the root is infected and the pulp of a tooth is decayed, damaged and/or inflamed.

Process of the root canal procedure

Before having a root canal treatment, a patient must first undergo on the following processes:

  • Dental X-ray
  • Pulp test- where a cold stimulus is placed on the tooth to check the patient’s response. The test involves more than one tooth to compare the patient’s responses on each.

So, how does a root canal treatment go?

Below are the step-by-step processes of the root canal treatment:

  1. Before anything else, the dentist will inject lidocaine (local anesthesia) to numb the decayed tooth from the painful process and to keep the patient comfortable.
  2. When the tooth is completely numb, a rubber dam (a dental rubber sheet) will be placed on the tooth. A rubber dam also called as the dental dam, it consists of a metal clamp which supports the protective sheet placed around the tooth. The dental dam keeps the tooth dry and uncontaminated from saliva during the treatment.
  3. The tooth is then drilled on the crown for an access to remove the infected dental pulp and the damaged nerve tissue from the pulp chamber and the root canals.
  4. The root canal cleaning is accomplished using root canal files. Where a series of root canal files which increase in length are subsequently plunged into the drilled hole to brush and scrape the entire length of the root canals.
  5. Next, the inner part of the tooth is cleaned with water and sodium hypochlorite.
  6. Then the tooth is disinfected with any sterilizing solution. In addition, small dental equipment is used to clean the pulp chamber and root canals.
  7. The anatomic space is then shaped for filling.
  8. The root canals are then filled with gutta-percha, a rubber-like biocompatible material. Then the dentist will surround the opening tooth with a sealing paste.
  9. Lastly, the tooth’s structure is repaired using a crown filling and sealed with an adhesive cement to completely seal the root canals. This serves as the tooth’s protection for future fractures.

However, some cases are finished with temporary filling only to seal the opening. When the tooth is repaired, the temporary filling is to be removed.

  1. After the first appointment, you must return for the second one after a week or two. The second appointment starts straight on the root canal filling immediately if the tooth is treated on the first procedure.

Usually, the second appointment is for crown placement and to fully restore the tooth.

The root canal treatment is usually completed in one or two dental appointments. The second appointment is only for retreating purposes only.

The said appointments are based on the dentist’s observation regarding the abscessed tooth’s size, the duration of infection, and other factors.

After the treatment, the tooth will still function normally just like the ones that did not undergo on the said process.

However if the said tooth is insufficient from structure which keeps the restoration intact, your dentist will place a dental post in the hollow space to anchor the tooth and sealed with a permanent filling.

Root Canal Pain

The dentist may or may not place the crown immediately. It depends on the patient’s case, some dentists allows the tooth to recover from pain before continuing the process.

You may ask your dentist regarding the recovery suited for your case.

Like any other procedures and tooth surgeries, root canal treatment is also very painful. However, the oral pain experienced during the process is not about the root canal treatment but the seeking of dental maintenance.

Pain After Root Canal Procedure

Some people experiencing pain after root canal procedure. This is not unusual behavior. You need to wait a few days and give your tooth time to settle down and become comfortable.

You need to make sure you are taking antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.

Avoid eating hard or crunchy foods after root canal treatment for next few days. This helps reducing the pain after root canal procedure.

However each situation is different.

If the pain after root canal procedure is still there after few days, make sure to contact your dentist.

After the treatment

What should a particular patient expect after the root canal treatment? After the dental procedure is completely finished below are the treatment’s aftermaths.

After the root canal treatment:

  • Minimize chewing hard particles on the newly or under repaired tooth to avoid future fracturing and contamination.
  • After the procedure expect to experience sensitivity due to inflamed natural tissues especially if the tooth aches or is infected before the treatment.

Medications after the treatment

To cure sensitivity after the treatment you can purchase the following over-the-counter medications in drugstores:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Oral health care needed after treatment

Asides from taking over-the-counter medicines, below are the following things you need to do to take care of the repaired teeth.

  • Brush regularly
  • Floss regularly

So, whether your tooth aches or not… you must always take care of your dentures to avoid cavities and tooth decays.