Learning About Root Canals

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What is a root canal?

Structure of the tooth

A root canal treatment is done to repair a tooth that is damaged by tooth decay or is infected. During a root canal, a dentist or specialist (endodontist) removes the pulp from the centre of the tooth down to the tip of the root. Then he or she fills the empty space.

The pulp is the centre (core) of a tooth. It contains nerves and blood vessels. When healthy, the pulp feeds the tooth and helps fight infection. But deep tooth decay or a broken tooth can damage the pulp and lead to a painful infection. A root canal helps relieve the pain and may save the tooth. It stops the infection from spreading to other teeth or the gums, and it helps the tooth heal.

How is it done?

The dentist will first completely numb the tooth and the area around it. He or she next uses a small drill and other tools to remove all the pulp from the tooth. Then the dentist fills the inside of the tooth below the gum line with a filling material.

The root canal may take more than one visit. This depends on the tooth involved and whether it's infected. If the tooth is infected, the dentist will treat the infection first. The pulp space may get medicine and a temporary filling material at that time. At a later visit, the tooth will get permanent filling material.

After the root canal, a filling or crown (cap) might be needed. The dentist makes an imprint or uses a computer to make an image of the tooth. Then a crown is made to match the tooth. The tooth may get a temporary crown until the permanent one is made and cemented in place.

What can you expect after a root canal?

After a root canal, your lips and gums may be numb for a few hours until the anesthetic wears off. Later you may have pain, which you can treat with pain medicines, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or a stronger prescription painkiller. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. The pain usually lasts only a day or two.

If your dentist prescribes antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You'll need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Avoid chewing with the tooth until the crown or filling is in place and the tooth feels better.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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