Why Do I Need a Root Canal?

Root canal treatment has gotten a “bad name” from cartoonists and the media. The truth is, a root canal treatment is simply when the dentist cleans out a tooth similar to doing decay removal on a tooth, except we also remove the deeper parts of the tooth where the infection may have spread. We removed the infected tissue inside the root chamber – commonly called the pulp – that is causing the abscess. If you wait too long and the abscess grows too big, then the infection can actually neutralize the anesthetic making it more difficult to numb up. In addition, the tooth can become extremely sensitive to hot or cold and pressure. Once the infected tissue is removed and the area is disinfected, the root chamber is sealed up with a medicated filling material which is placed inside. Because the nerves and the blood supply are also removed during this process, the tooth will often become dried out and brittle. Because this often occurs when there is a deep decay, or a fracture of a cusp of a tooth, some type of restoration is needed to protect the crown of the tooth and bring it back so you can function on it and chew naturally again.

Most of the time, we will follow up root canal therapy with a crown or an onlay to protect the top of the tooth and allow you to chew like normal. Not all teeth that get a crown will need a root canal and not all root canalled teeth will need a crown. It depends upon the location in the mouth, what the opposing dentition is – natural tooth versus a denture tooth and how much tooth structure was removed in the process of removing the decay to access the nerve.

How Will I Know if I Need a Root Canal?

Generally speaking, if the pulp chamber (nerve) is exposed to infection or mechanically from drilling or trauma, then “root canal therapy” will be needed to prevent the bacteria that have gotten into the nerve are exposed to the rest of the body. An abscess occurs at the tip of the root when the body tries to fight off the infection from spreading. When this occurs, the tooth becomes sensitive to pressure and you can’t put any type of biting pressure on the tooth. It also tends to become more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures and, in some cases, it can be sensitive to sweets. Spontaneous pain that wakes you at night and lasts for several minutes is usually an indication that the infection is into the nerve.

What Alternatives are Available to Doing a Root Canal?

If a tooth is badly broken down or fractured below the gumline one option is to remove the tooth and place a dental implant. An implant is a great option especially if the tooth has fractured and you need something there to chew on or support a bridge or partial denture.

Dr. James R. Donley of Lumbertown Dental Wellness in North Muskegon, Michigan has been doing root canals for his entire career. While he may treat most cases, he might refer the more challenging molars to the specialists for treatment. If you are experiencing pain on biting or hot or cold sensitivity that lasts more than a couple seconds, you might want to contact Dr. Donley immediately to have the tooth looked at.