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Dealing with an Infected Root Canal in

Is your tooth infected or decayed? The pulp of your tooth contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues. Through cavities, cracks, or flaws in fillings, bacteria can creep into your tooth’s pulp and cause abscesses, pain, and swelling. A root canal may be your best option for saving the tooth rather than having it pulled. A root canal treatment involves removing the infected or dead pulp of your tooth and filling the space into with special dental material to restore the tooth.

Root Canal Therapy

Root canal therapy is needed when the nerve of a tooth is affected by decay or infection. In order to save the tooth, the pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth), nerves, bacteria, and any decay are removed and the resulting space is filled with special, medicated dental materials, which restore the tooth to its full function.

Having a root canal done on a tooth is the treatment of choice to save a tooth that otherwise would die and have to be removed. Many patients believe that removing a tooth that has problems is the solution, but what is not realized is that extracting (pulling) a tooth will ultimately be more costly and cause significant problems for adjacent teeth.

Root canal treatment most of the time is highly successful and can last a lifetime, although, on occasion, a tooth will have to be retreated due to new infections.

Signs and symptoms for possible root canal therapy:

  • An abscess (or a pimple) on the gums.
  • Extreme sensitivity to heat, cold and pressure.
  • Severe toothache pain.
  • Sometimes no symptoms are present.
  • Swelling and/or tenderness.
  • Frequent tooth and gum pain.
  • A large visible cavity that compromises the integrity of the tooth.
  • A foul taste or odor near the afflicted tooth even after brushing your teeth.
  • Pus that drains into your mouth.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck and jaw near the affected tooth.

An abscess, or an enclosed pocket of infection that has reached the jaw bone, can cause severe pain and may need emergency treatment before a root canal can take place. Not all abscesses cause extreme pain, but they still need prompt attention. Tell your dentist about any unexplained swelling or inflammation in your mouth or along your gums.

Reasons for root canal therapy:

  • Decay has reached the tooth pulp (the living tissue inside the tooth).
  • Infection or abscess have developed inside the tooth or at the root tip.
  • Injury or trauma to the tooth.

Who Needs a Root Canal?

Your enamel normally protects your teeth, but any major breach in it could necessitate a root canal. Teeth affected by advanced tooth decay or large cavities may need a root canal before any other restoration can take place. Severe damage to a tooth due to an accident or injury can also lead to a root canal. A large crack or break allows pathogens to invade the nerves and pulp deep inside the tooth, and many dentists recommend a root canal to avoid this painful condition

What to Expect During a Root Canal

Before performing any procedure, your dentist or endodontist will look at X-rays of your mouth to determine the best course of treatment for you. When it is time for a root canal, your dentist will start by anesthetizing your mouth. After applying a topical and a local anesthetic, the dentist will place a rubber-like dental dam in your mouth to isolate the tooth. If the tooth is far back in your mouth, you may also have a bite block in place to let your jaw muscles relax while still keeping your mouth open. The dental dam serves a twofold purpose; it protects your mouth from the cleaning solutions and drill debris from the affected area, and it also keeps the tooth dry.

When your mouth is sufficiently numbed, the dentist will open the top of the tooth and remove the soft pulp from its interior. The resulting opening will also be shaped for later filling and restoration work. Slim instruments fit into the channels or root canals through which the tooth’s nerves are connected, removing the nerve tissue that could form a reservoir for bacteria. It is vital to remove every bit of material from these passageways to prevent future infections, so this part of the procedure usually takes the longest time.

When the tooth is completely free of pulp and nerve tissue, the dentist will clean the area with antiseptic solutions and seal it with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. This material is non-reactive and bio-compatible. After it is sealed with gutta-percha, the tooth will be filled with a temporary filling until it is permanently crowned during your next appointment. Creating the crown takes time, but waiting to apply the permanent restoration has another purpose. Any signs of remaining infection can appear during the two to three weeks that the temporary filling is in your mouth. Although the need for additional cleaning occurs rarely, the procedure is significantly simpler when only a temporary crown must be removed.

After treatment, your tooth may still be sensitive, but this will subside as the inflammation diminishes and the tooth has healed.

Steps to Prevent Future Root Canal Procedures

Although a root canal procedure is not generally painful, avoiding major dental work is always preferable. You can minimize your chances of undergoing a root canal procedure in the future by following good oral hygiene practices and paying close attention to your dental health.

  • Brush and floss regularly.
  • Have your teeth cleaned at least twice a year.
  • Wear protective mouth gear while playing sports to reduce chances of injury.
  • Have the integrity of any fillings or dental restoration checked during dental visits.