What is a Root Canal?
I sure get a little nervous when my doctor combines treatments and canals in the same sentence. Justifiably my patients react the same way when I recommend a root canal treatment.
When it becomes impossible to restore a severely decayed or fractured tooth merely with a filling or crown I have to recommend root canal therapy or extraction. I still get people fidgeting and wincing at the thought.
The vast majority of root canal treatments are successful and are provided with minimal discomfort. Just like the TV news and printed newspapers we only hear about tragic events, crumbling economies and horrible acts done by man. In other words no news is good news. So the uneventful successful root canal fillings go by unnoticed.
There are a few failures. It ranges between 2% to 5%. Some teeth are just untreatable or not worth the time and expense due to predictable unfavorable outcomes.
Root canal myths abound. Root canal treatments remove the roots, pulling a tooth is better than a root canal filling, pregnant women can’t have root canals, root canals cause illness, and if it doesn’t hurt don’t fix it with a root canal. These are just myths. Let me explain.
Anatomically, the teeth are formed with a hard outer enamel shell covering a less dense dentin core. This core protects the pulp of the tooth which has a nerve and blood supply. When trauma or bacterial invasion penetrates through the enamel and into the dentin core the living tissues of the pulp will die off leaking out into the bone through the end of the root and causing an abscess to form.
Pain may not be present when the dentist examines the x-rays and finds a latent abscess or dead tooth. The tooth is best treated before a severely painful infection develops. Infections will compromise pain control and the outcome of the treatment. Do not delay.
Root canal fillings obliterate the space that was once occupied by the nerve. It takes a lot of clinical know-how and patience to place these fillings. Once placed the fillings need protection from the mouth fluids with a restoration like a crown or sealed filling.
Root canal fillings can be placed during pregnancy without any special precautions. Also, there is no evidence to suggest that root canal treatments will develop into an illness. Save your teeth if you can. In the long run it is far easier the alternatives.
Do all crowns need root canal fillings first? No. Only about 20% of crowned teeth will need root canal fillings later on in normal situations. Do most root canal fillings need crowns? Yes. Root canal filled teeth become brittle and may fracture later so they require full coverage of the chewing surface. Once properly restored the tooth should perform like a normal tooth for a long time.