Problems like disease, decay and injury can threatened the health of your teeth and ruin your smile. But thanks to advances in treatment and technologies, many teeth can be saved before they reach the point of disrepair. One way which a tooth can be saved is with a procedure called “Root Canal Therapy.”
When Teeth Need Root Canal Treatment
Your tooth is a very solid structure that is made up of different hard tissue layers that differ in amount of hardness (calcification) and one soft, pulpal layer that is composed of a blood, lymphatic and nerve supply. This soft layer in located within a canal inside the tooth that runs from the crown to the tips of the roots with a hole at the end of each tooth root that allows these tissue to enter and exit. We called this area of the tooth the pulpal tissue and it plays a nutritive, protective, sensory and cell formation role for the tooth.
This pulp can become damaged if has sustained injury or becomes inflamed due to dental decay and large fillings. You can appreciate that there is no room for inflammation within the confines of a hard, calcified structure and as pressure builds up the nerve portion of the pulpal tissue reacts and sends pain sensations. If enough damaged has been sustained the pulpal will continue to breakdown and becomes necrotic. Infection will form which can extend out of the tooth root and form a pool of infection at the root tips. If left untreated, the infection will continue to spread and destroy surrounding bone,
With the infection at the end of tooth root, chewing can become painful as you push the tooth down into this area with each bite. The goal of a dentist would be to remove the tissue that is essentially rotting inside the tooth and seal off these canals by plugging the holes at the end of each tooth root with a dental material called gutta percha to protect the tooth from future bacterial contamination.
What can cause damage to the pulpal tissue?
- Cavities that have grown and reached this pulpal area.
- Teeth that have chipped or broken into this area
- Injury or hard “hit” to the tooth cause the pulpal tissue to become inflamed and bleed
- Bacteria associated with gum disease can enter into the pulpal area by way of the main holes at the end of the root tips or through tiny “extra” canal openings that sometimes exists along the root surface.
The Signs You Need a Root Canal
While there are some distinct signs and symptoms that most people are familiar with, there are also other less obvious ones that only your dentist can detect. Pain can vary from person to person and can range from slight discomfort to extreme, throbbing pain.
Signs you will notice
- can range from a slight discomfort that may come and go or an extreme pain that can continue for prolonged periods of time.
- can be a throbbing ache that makes sleeping and difficult.
- may or may not be relieved by medications depending on the severity of the damaged nerve
- can occur when eating hot or cold foods/drinks and will often linger on afterwards.
- can radiate into your jaws, ears or temple areas.
- can lessen or intensify as you change your position.
- can happen when you bite down or press on the tooth due to inflammation at the root tip. (like when you press down on an inflamed pimple)
Darkening of the tooth caused by the dying nerve
Swelling of the cheek, lips or face.
Pimple (fistula) or sore on the gum above the tooth in question. Pus may drain from the pimple and have a foul smell or unpleasant taste.
Foul taste in mouth
Swollen neck glands
Difficulty opening mouth
A general feeling of unwellness
Signs your dentist will notice:
- No Signs: Many times, a patient may come in for a routine visit with no signs or symptoms of a dying tooth. The dentist may notice some redness and swelling along the gum or the problem is picked up on a check-up x-ray.
- Vague Signs: There are patients who come in with discomfort in an area and the dentist must conduct a series of tests to determine the source and nature of the pain and the health of the pulp. An x-ray may help identify the tooth in question, but this is not always the case. Sometimes, even after the tests, a dentist may still have difficulty locating the source of the discomfort and recommend that the patient see a specialist for further testing
- Acute Signs: Other times a patient will come in with obvious signs of an abscessed tooth, in which case an x-ray will help determine the extent of damage.
Curious about what goes into a root canal procedure?
As is often the case for ailments of the body, the signs that you may need a trip to the doctor/ dentist is not always obvious. Damage to the root canal portion of your tooth can be one of those “silent” diseases that you are not even aware exists. This is why we always recommend that our patients keep up with their regular check-up visits. In doing so, we can detect problems early to minimize the amount of damage a tooth will suffer.
Root canal treatment is one way in which Dr. Sam Axelrod & Associates can prolong and preserve the life of a tooth and the sooner treatment is begun the greater the chances of saving the tooth!
Yours in Better Dental Health,
The Your Smile Dental Care Team