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“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.”

— Richard James Molloy

What is a Root Canal?

A “root canal” is not a treatment, but part of a tooth. It is the hollow section of a tooth that contains the nerve tissue, blood vessels, and other cells, also known as the pulp.
A tooth consists of a crown and roots. The crown is mainly above the gum, while the roots are below it. The roots attach the tooth to the jawbone.
Inside the crown and the root, or the root canal, is the pulp. The pulp nourishes the tooth and provides moisture to the surrounding material. The nerves in the pulp sense hot and cold temperatures as pain.
The name of the dental procedure commonly referred to as a “root canal” is actually endodontic therapy, which means “inside the tooth.”
However, the term “root canal” has come to be commonly used to talk about the procedure.

What are the steps?

Root canal therapy is done in three steps, and it takes between one and three sessions to complete.

1. Cleaning the root canal
First, the dentist removes everything that is inside the root canal.

With the patient under local anesthesia, the dentist makes a small access hole on the surface of the tooth and removes the diseased and dead pulp tissue with very small files.

2. Filling the root canal
Next, the dentist cleans, shapes and decontaminates the hollow area, using tiny files and irrigation solutions. Then, the tooth is filled with a rubber-like material, using an adhesive cement to seal the canals completely.

After root canal therapy, the tooth is dead. The patient will no longer feel any pain in that tooth because the nerve tissue has been removed, and the infection has been eliminated.

3. Adding a crown or filling
However, the tooth will be now more fragile than it was before. A tooth with no pulp must receive its nourishment from the ligament that attaches the tooth to the bone. This supply is adequate, but in time, the tooth will become more brittle, so a crown or filling offers protection.

Until the crown or filling is complete, the patient should not chew or bite on the tooth. Once there is a crown or filling is done, the person can use the tooth as before.

Treatment often takes only one appointment, but if there are curved canals, multi-canals, or large infections, this could take one or two additional appointments.

How painful is it?

One of the great fears about this kind of treatment is that it will be painful, but the treatment that is carried out by a trained dental surgeon should be relatively painless.

The pain that is felt comes from the infection and not from the treatment. The treatment does not cause pain; it helps to alleviate it.

The dental surgeon will relieve the pain of the procedure by numbing the tooth and surrounding area with local anesthesia.

After the treatment, some tenderness is normal. It is temporary, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication may be enough to relieve it. If needed, prescription drugs, such as codeine, are available.

The dentist may prescribe an antibiotic to treat or prevent infection.

How Successful Are Root Canals?

Root canal treatment is highly successful; the procedure has more than a 95% success rate. Many teeth fixed with a root canal can last a lifetime.

Also, because the final step of the root canal procedure is application of a restoration such as a crown or a filling, it will not be obvious to onlookers that a root canal was performed.

What Should One Expect After the Root Canal?

For the first few days following the completion of a root canal, the tooth may feel sensitive due to natural tissue inflammation, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This sensitivity or discomfort usually can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Most patients can return to their normal activities the next day.
Until your root canal procedure is completely finished — that is to say, the permanent filling is in place and/or the crown, it’s wise to minimize chewing on the tooth under repair. This step will help avoid recontamination of the interior of the tooth and also may prevent a fragile tooth from breaking before the tooth can be fully restored.

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As far as oral health care is concerned, brush, floss, and use an antiseptic mouthwash as you regularly would and see your dentist at normally scheduled intervals.

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