Root Canal Therapy

Root canal therapy is needed when the pulp (sometimes improperly called 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), bacteria, and any decay are removed and the resulting space is filled with special 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 become abscessed 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.

Also, removing a tooth is far more traumatic than having a root canal treatment. Root canals are done to get or keep a patient out of pain, not to cause pain.

Root canal treatment is highly successful and usually lasts 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 pimple) on the gums.
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold, especially if the discomfort doesn't stop when the source or heat or cold is removed.
  • Severe toothache pain.
  • Sometimes no symptoms are present.
  • Swelling and/or tenderness.

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.

What does root canal therapy involve?

A root canal procedure requires one or more appointments and can be performed by Dr. Rathke or an endodontist (a root canal specialist).

In most cases, root canal treatment is painless. One of the main reasons to have a root canal is to stop or prevent pain, not start it!

While the tooth is numb, a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) will be placed around the tooth to keep it dry and free of saliva.  If tooth decay is present, it will be removed; if the decay is extensive, a temporary filling called a crown buildup may need to be done. An access opening is made on top of the tooth and any remaining pulp is removed. The canals are found and measured precisely. They are then shaped, smoothed, cleaned and sterilized, and special materials are used to fill that root canals. Occasionally, this takes more than one appointment, during which the access opening is sealed with a temporary material along with medication inside the tooth to keep it comfortable.

Any back tooth that has root canal treatment should have a crown (cap) placed.  This will protect the tooth and help prevent it from breaking, and restore it to its full function. Most front teeth also require crowns.

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

You will be given care instructions after each appointment.  Good oral hygiene practices and regular dental visits will aid in the life of your root canal treatment.