A root canal is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or becomes infected.
Root canal procedures are performed when the nerve of the tooth becomes infected or the pulp becomes damaged. During the procedure, the nerve and pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed.
When nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, it breaks down and bacteria begin to multiply within the pulp chamber. The bacteria and other decayed debris can cause an infection or abscessed tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of the roots of the tooth. An abscess occurs when the infection spreads all the way past the ends of the roots of the tooth.
In addition to an abscess, an infection in the root canal of a tooth can cause:
- Swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head
- Bone loss around the tip of the root
- Drainage problems extending outward from the root. A hole can occur through the side of the tooth with drainage into the gums or through the cheek with drainage into the skin.
Symptoms to look for include:
- Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
- Prolonged sensitivity/pain to heat or cold temperatures (after the hot or cold has been removed)
- Discoloration (a darkening) of the tooth
- Swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums
- A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums
Alternatives to a Root Canal
The only alternative to a root canal procedure is having the tooth extracted and replaced with a bridge, implant, or removable partial denture to restore chewing function and prevent adjacent teeth from shifting. These alternatives not only are more expensive than a root canal procedure but require more treatment time and additional procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.