Root canals are physical canals inside a tooth that are naturally inhabited by nerve tissue and blood vessels, otherwise known as “dental pulp”. When cavities are left untreated, the bacteria eventually reaches the root canals, causing infection of the dental pulp.
Root canal treatment is the removal of the infected pulp, the shaping, cleaning, and decontamination of the canals, and the filling of the decontaminated canals with an inert filling, all of which result in the elimination of infection. Root canal treatments often involve the placement of a crown on top of the treated tooth to restore the natural appearance of the tooth.
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You may require a root canal treatment if the pulp of your tooth has become infected due to excessive tooth decay or injury. Leaving a tooth with infected root pulp untreated can lead to a spread of the infection into the jaw and surrounding tissues.
The only alternative to root canal treatment is the extraction of the affected tooth. Antibiotics can temporarily keep infection from spreading to surrounding tissues, but will not eliminate the source of the infection, which is the infected pulp tissue inside the canal.
If you choose extraction, the extracted tooth can be replaced with a bridge, denture or implant. Extracting a tooth and not replacing it may lead to other serious issues if your teeth shift over time to fill the gap.
Patients are typically given the same anesthetic provided during the treatment of cavities and other dental procedures. This anesthetic completely numbs the affected area, so a root canal treatment is typically no more painful than a standard filling. However, the procedure does take longer and may sometimes require more than one visit depending on the severity of the infection. There is usually some minor discomfort after the anesthetic wears off that can be easily controlled by pain medication.