A Basic Overview of Root Canal Procedures
Usually, root canal procedures take two appointments with your dentist. Prior to the actual treatment, a series of X-rays may be taken to determine the degree of damage. A local anesthetic is administered to numb the area of the tooth that will be treated, except where the damage is extensive to the point where there is no more tooth sensitivity.
The dentist places a dam, or rubber sheet, around the tooth to keep away saliva and also prevent inhalation or swallowing of chemicals applied to the tooth during the procedure. The tooth is ‘opened’ via the crown (the top flat part) from where they can gain access to the tooth pulp underneath.
Any infected pulp is then removed, and where there’s a dental abscess (swelling filled with pus), it will be simultaneously drained.
Cleaning and filling
Once infected pulp is removed, the dentist cleans the area then enlarges the root canal to make filling easy – usually it tends to be narrow, which interferes with the filling process. A number of small files are used for the enlargement in a process that can take several hours spread over multiple visits. Teeth with more roots such as molars and premolars take longer.
Where multiple visits to the dental clinic are necessary, an anti-bacterial treatment is applied to ensure that no bacteria thrive in the canal. Also, a temporary filling is used to seal up the area. Where symptoms of infection and/or inflammation such as fever or swelling are noticed, antibiotics will be administered to manage the situation.
Sealing and fixation
Once the enlargement process is complete, the temporary filling will be removed and the permanent filling inserted to seal the tooth completely and eliminate chances of re-infection. However, teeth that have been filled at the roots have higher chances of breaking than normal healthy teeth, and hence your dentist may recommend placing a crown for protection.
Sometimes, the root-filled tooth may begin to turn darker, such as where injury causes death of the tooth. In such cases, cosmetic treatments like tooth whitening can be used to reverse the discoloration.
Crowns are caps which are placed on a real tooth to cover it and hence offer protection to the tooth. As mentioned, these are necessary after root canal treatment to prevent fracturing or further damage. Crowns are usually made of ceramic material, metal and/or porcelain or powdered glass.
To place the crown, the dentist will reduce the size of the tooth and fill up the space created with the crown. Usually, a mold of the tooth is taken to ascertain that the crown fitted matches the shape and size of the tooth. The crown is glued to the trimmed tooth using cement.
Where the treatment procedure resulted in removal of much of the tooth pulp, the dentist can additionally cement a post to the tooth to hold the crown firmly in place.
With good dental hygiene, the tooth can survive for a long time after the procedure has been done, especially where a crown is fitted afterwards. If re-infection occurs, the procedure can be repeated.