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What Is a Root Canal?

Often a root canal treatment (typically just called a ‘root canal’) can have a bad reputation or cause a patient to feel stress. However, it doesn’t have to! Sometimes fear is caused by not knowing what is going to happen. The SmileSense staff will always explain any procedure that you may have questions about, but here is a short explanation of the procedure.

Root Canal Procedure

Local anesthesia (freezing) is administered via injections to numb the tooth to be treated and the surrounding tissues. A dental dam will be placed over the affected and adjacent teeth. This allows the root canal treatment to be carried out in a sterile environment free from contamination by bacteria found in saliva or the rest of the mouth.

A small access hole is drilled through the biting surface of an affected back tooth or from behind a front tooth, allowing access to the pulp chamber and root canals for treatment. This is not painful; your tooth will be numb at this point. Think of it as similar to having a filling done. The infected nerve is removed from the tooth with specially designed instruments used to clean out the root canals and pulp chamber. The canals are disinfected with antiseptic and antibacterial solutions, then dried with absorbent points inserted into the canals.

Root canal fillings are selected that will exactly fit into the freshly prepared canals. Together with adhesive cement called a sealer, the filling material fills the prepared canal space. Sealing the canals is critically important to prevent them from becoming reinfected with bacteria.

If the tooth lacks sufficient structure to hold a filling in place, the dentist may place a post in one of the canals inside the tooth to help retain it. At this point, a filling is placed on top of the access hole. It is recommended that you have a crown (also called a cap) placed within 6 months of having a root canal treatment done to prevent catastrophic failure; once the procedure is done, teeth become brittle and break easily due to lack of blood supply, therefore making it more susceptible to fracturing.

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