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What is a Root Canal and When is it Necessary?

What is a Root Canal and When is it Necessary?

the science of smilesRoot canal therapy, or commonly referred to as a root canal, is treatment for the dental pulp of a tooth that is infected or dead.

Dental pulp is a very important part of a tooth. It’s soft in nature and it sits at the very center of a tooth that contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue.

(RELATED: Is It Possible to Skip a Root Canal?)

Root canal therapy, simply referred to as a root canal, is treatment for the dental pulp of a tooth that is inflamed, infected, or dead. The pulp chamber is the hollow part in the center of a tooth that contains the pulp, and which continues down canals that extend through the roots of teeth and into the surrounding bone.

When is a Root Canal Needed?

There are a variety of ways that the pulp in your tooth can be harmed, including

  • A deep cavity
  • Repeated dental procedures
  • A cracked or fractured tooth
  • Trauma

When these conditions go untreated the pulp of a tooth can die, and inflammation and infection can spread into the bone supporting the root(s) of a tooth. When this happens, you may experience pain and swelling, and a dental abscess may form.

Once an infection develops, you are at risk of losing your tooth completely if left untreated.

(RELATED: Hidden Tooth Infections Could Spell Trouble for Your Heart)

What’s Involved in the Root Canal Procedure?

A root canal is a common but significant procedure. It’s not something done as part of your regular dental checkup, and may require multiple appointments to complete.

Before a root canal, I will:

  • Take x-rays to get a clear view of your tooth and the surrounding bone.
  • Numb the area, including your tooth, with local anesthetic.
  • Put a thin sheet of rubber over your tooth to keep it dry, clean, and protected during the procedure.

During treatment, I will:

  • Create an opening in the top of your tooth.
  • Remove the tooth’s pulp from inside the tooth and in the areas in the root (known as the root canal).
  • Clean inside the tooth and each root canal.
  • Fill the root canals with a rubber-like material to seal against future infection.
  • Place a temporary filling in the tooth for protection until a permanent filling or crown can be placed at the earliest opportunity.

(RELATED: No More Root Canals! Biomimetic Dentistry is the New Tooth-Friendly Choice)

After treatment:

  • You may have some sensitivity in the repaired area for a few days. This discomfort can be treated by over-the-counter medications.
  • I may prescribe antibiotics if the infection caused significant swelling in your jaw.

At your follow up visit I will replace the temporary filling with a permanent one, or will begin the process of making a crown (cap) for your tooth. A metal or plastic post might be placed in the root canal to help keep the permanent filling material in place. With proper care, your restored tooth should continue to function as normal for years to come.

As always, brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss at least once a day, and keep up those regular dental checkups!


THE SCIENCE OF SMILES® offers affordable cosmetic and laser dentistry and gentle, compassionate general dental care in Pasadena, CA. Our office is conveniently located with extended hours to meet your needs. At THE SCIENCE OF SMILES®, we provide most dental services, from basic preventative care and general dentistry to specialized procedures, complete dental reconstruction and TMJ/Headache management. Patient satisfaction is our top priority and we strive to provide the exceptional, affordable dental care and personal touch that lead to lasting relationships. A smiling patient is our greatest reward and we look forward to keeping those smiles healthy, beautiful, and bright. Discover affordable up-to-date dentistry and a team who truly cares at THE SCIENCE OF SMILES®.