Each tooth has its own nerve and blood supply, which is called the dental pulp. When a tooth is traumatized by deep decay or a traumatic injury the pulp can die and result in an infection. This is often diagnosed due to a tooth ache or swelling caused by the formation of an abscess. When the pulp dies there are two options for treatment of that tooth: extraction or root canal therapy. If the tooth is able to be repaired, root canal therapy is generally the treatment of choice.
A root canal is performed by accessing the pulp with a drill (very similar to how a filling is done) and the necrotic pulp is removed using tiny hand files and rotary files to clean and shape the canals. A disinfecting solution is used to remove any bacteria from within the tooth before filling the canals with a rubbery material called gutta percha. A filling is then placed over the top of the completed root canal.
The process of having a root canal often sounds scary but, for the patient, it feels much like having a large filling done.
After a root canal is completed, it is generally recommended that a crown be placed on that tooth in order to prevent the tooth from fracturing. This is because the large amount of missing tooth structure (from the procedure itself and also from the often large decay that caused the infection) results in a higher chance of fracture of the tooth. A crown is advised in order to strengthen and help prolong the life of that tooth.
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