There’s dentistry and then there’s “endodontic treatment.” So, what’s the difference? Is one a smaller part of the other?
The word “endodontic” stems from the Greek words for “inside” (endo) and “tooth” (odont). Together, the meaning of a root canal treatment is brought to a term. Endodonic therapy is actually a tooth-saving branch of the dental industry.
In order to better understand what a root canal is and how “endodontic therapy” can help save a tooth, it is essential to understand the anatomy of a tooth.
A tooth’s anatomy
Starting from the outside-in, let’s first talk about what you see when someone smiles: the enamel of the tooth—you know, that (preferably) white, shiny stuff.
Below the enamel is a layer called dentin. Dentin is softer than enamel, but is the second hardest tissue in the body—akin to bone—with a yellowish tint (hence when your dentin is exposed or enamel wears, your teeth look more yellow).
Below the layer of dentin you have the “pulp” of the tooth. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue that create surrounding hard tissues of the tooth during its initial development. Reaching from the top of the tooth to the bottom of the roots, the pulp connects everything to the tissues of the jaw. Once the tooth is fully mature, however, it can survive without the pulp…hence why a root canal works!
So, what exactly happens during a root canal? First, let’s dive into why a root canal is usually needed.
The cause for a root canal
If the pulp layer of a tooth becomes infected or inflamed (due to enamel erosion, cavities, decay, impact, repeated dental procedures, a chip or a crack, or something else), you will experience sure signs like pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, tenderness to touch and chewing, discoloration and swelling in that area. These symptoms signify infection or inflammation that can cause more pain over time and eventually lead to an abscess. Read: go to your dentist immediately to sort out the cause and get appropriate treatment.
If the needed treatment is a root canal, what happens during the procedure by the endodontist? Allow us to paint that picture.
How root canals work
- An exam and x-ray is done to identify the infected area. After taking a look, your dentist will administer a local anesthetic to numb the area, and then isolate the tooth by placing a “dental dam” (a small protective sheet) over the area to keep it sanitary and dry throughout the procedure.
- Once isolated, the procedure begins. First, the endodontist will drill an opening into the crown (or top) of the tooth. Once an opening is created the endodontist can clean out the infected pulp from the entire pulp chamber and the roots below to prepare the space for the filling.
- After the canals of the tooth have been shaped, a biocompatible material called “gutta-percha” (a rubber compound) is used to fill the canals where the existing pulp and roots were. This is done with a cement adhesive that ensures total sealant of the canals. On top of the gutta-percha will be a layer of composite filling. For some patients, this is all that a root canal will entail.
- Depending on the strength of your tooth and if it is possible for it to hold the restoration in place, your endodontist may opt to use a post inside of the tooth, add a crown—or even a crown and post to prevent the tooth from breaking.
- If a crown is the avenue you have to take, then a temporary crown will be placed on top of the filling at this time. You’ll have a second appointment when the permanent crown is ready to be placed.
Where is a root canal on the pain Richter?
Many people report that a root canal procedure itself is equivalent to having a filling done. If the anesthetic is done correctly you should only feel the vibrations from the tools.
Starting a few hours after the procedure is when you might feel sensitivity due to the area being inflamed from impact. Usually over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, or naproxen can subdue the pain, and in a few days you should return to normal.
For a period of time, there may be a noticeable difference in your bite or how your tooth feels to your tongue. In time, this will change, and you’ll become used to the new shape or feel.
Caring for your tooth and/or crown after the procedure
Until the root canal procedure is officially complete, and the permanent filling or crown is in place, it’s best to chew on the opposite side of your mouth.
We’re happy to report that no extra care is needed for this update to your teeth! Continue upping your game with good oral care (i.e., brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, using mouthwash, eating a healthy diet and seeing your dentist regularly), and you can put this quick procedure fast behind you!
Also published on Medium.