Root Canal Therapy

Endodontic (root canal) therapy is necessary when the pulp (blood and nerve supply) of the tooth has been affected by decay, infection, or trauma.  In order to save the tooth, the pulp of the tooth must be removed.  This is accomplished using mechanical and chemical means.  The space remaining is then hermetically sealed with a biologically compatible root canal filling material. 

Performing a root canal on a tooth is the treatment of choice to save a tooth that otherwise would have to be removed.  Many patients believe that removing a tooth that has problems is the only solution.  What is not recognized in many cases is that extracting (pulling) the tooth often leads to more costly and time consuming treatment or problems in the future.

Root canal therapy is highly successful and may last a lifetime, although on occasion a tooth may require retreatment, or a minor surgical procedure due to new infections. 


Signs and symptoms sometimes associated with a tooth requiring root canal therapy:

  • Sensitivity to cold and sometimes heat.
  • Pain to biting.
  • Swelling.
  • An abscess (pimple) on the gums.
  • Sometimes no pain at all.

Reasons for root canal therapy:

  • Decay close to or into the pulp (blood and nerve supply).
  • Infection within the tooth or an abscess around the roots of the tooth.
  • Trauma to the tooth.

What does root canal therapy involve?

Root canal therapy requires one or more appointments and can be performed by a dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist).

Once the tooth is anesthetized (numbed), a rubber dam (sheet of rubber) is placed to isolate the tooth and keep it free from contamination.  An opening is then made on the top or back of the tooth and a series of root canal files are placed into the opening, removing the tissue and bacteria. 

Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, it wll be sealed with a root canal filling material or, if additional appointments are needed, medication may be placed within the canals and a temporary filling is used to seal the opening to the canals.

At the next appointment (if needed), the canals will be checked for cleanliness, and then sealed with a root canal filling material.  A temporary restoration is usually placed again until the tooth can be permanently restored.  While many teeth require a crown for the permanent restoration, some teeth just require a simple restoration (filling).

Following treatment, the tooth may still be sensitive, but this should subside as inflammation and infection resolve.

Instructions following treatment should be given which should include what to expect, and what to do should questions arise.  Regular check-ups with your dentist along with good oral hygiene should aid in the life of any root canal treatment.