Untreated decay, a cracked or traumatized tooth and a large filling that has irritated the nerve can all cause the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth to die. This allows bacteria to gain access into the pulp chamber, causing an infection inside the tooth. The infection can pass through the canals into the bone causing an abscess. Instead of extracting the tooth a root canal is performed in order to remove the infection.
Root canal therapy usually requires a series of appointments:
- An opening is made into the top of the tooth in order to gain access into the pulp. The pulp and the canals are flushed with disinfectant and cleaned. A temporary seal is placed over the opening and in case of an infection antibiotics are prescribed.
- At the next appointment the canals are cleaned, shaped and filled with a rubber-like material called “gutta percha” to seal them.
- If the strength of the tooth has been compromised a crown is usually placed over the tooth (see crowns).
Endodontic therapy is probably one of the most misunderstood procedures performed in the dental office. The name is often associated with pain and is the source of many dental “jokes.” In fact, exactly the opposite is true. An abscessed tooth is probably one of the more painful dental emergencies treated, and the pain is alleviated by root canal therapy.