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Root Canal Treatment

What is a root canal?

It is a procedure to remove diseased pulp from a root canal in your tooth. The pulp is tissue that contains nerves and blood vessels that fill your tooth roots. Each root secures your tooth to your gum and jawbone.

Why do I need a root canal?

The pulp in your tooth can become diseased if your tooth is damaged or infected. Diseased pulp can cause pain and swelling in and around the tooth. You may need a root canal if you have the following:

  • Abscess: This is a pocket of infection that collects around the root of a tooth. A root canal helps remove the infection and prevents it from spreading.

  • Cavities: When bacteria is not cleaned from your teeth, it can turn into a sticky film called plaque. The plaque eats away at your teeth, causing small holes called cavities. Over time, untreated cavities will decay your teeth and may reach the root of a tooth.

  • Trauma: You may have a broken tooth from an accident or injury. If the pulp and root are exposed, you may need a root canal.

What happens before a root canal?

You may need the following:

  • Medicines:

    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling and pain. You can buy NSAIDs without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you, and how much to take. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.

    • Antibiotic medicine: This is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Take as directed.

  • X-ray: An x-ray of your mouth may be done to check the health of your tooth and the bone around it. An x-ray also shows your caregiver the shape of the tooth roots to be cleaned.

What happens during a root canal?

  • You will sit or lie back in a dental chair. You will receive a shot of local anesthesia (numbing medicine) around your tooth. If you have a filling or other dental device on your tooth, your caregiver will remove it. A rubber sheet will be put around your tooth to separate your tooth from the rest of your mouth. The rubber sheet helps prevent saliva from entering the root canal. It also helps prevent you from breathing in or swallowing liquids or small tooth pieces. Your caregiver may remove the crown on your tooth with a dental drill. He may also drill a hole in the crown to reach the pulp and root canal.

  • Your caregiver will remove the diseased pulp from the tooth. An x-ray picture may be taken. Your caregiver will clean any remaining diseased pulp from the root canal using dental tools and cleaning fluids. Once all of the pulp is removed, your caregiver will clean the open root canal with germ-killing liquid. The root canal will be dried and a filling will be put inside your tooth root. Your caregiver will cover your tooth with a temporary or permanent crown. If there is swelling in the root canal, your caregiver may fill the root with a steroid paste. The paste helps decrease swelling. If a temporary crown is used, your caregiver will replace it with a permanent crown about 1 week later.

What happens after a root canal?

Ask your caregiver when you can eat and drink again. Ask about any special instructions for caring for your tooth after a root canal. Find out when to return to complete your procedure or for a follow-up visit.

What are the risks of a root canal?

  • The cleaning fluid used to clean the root may enter nearby tissues and cause swelling, bruising, or an infection. The tip of a dental tool may get stuck in your root canal, or you may swallow the tip if it drops into your mouth. You may get a fistula (abnormal tissue opening) between your tooth root and your sinus. The diseased tissue may not be completely removed, the root may not be completely filled, or the seal may not be tight. This means germs could enter your tooth and cause an infection. After your procedure, you may have pain, swelling, or damage to your tooth. You may need another root canal, or your tooth may need to be removed.

  • If you do not have a root canal, your symptoms may get worse. The pain may make it hard for you to bite down with your tooth. Your infection may spread into the tissues around your tooth and create an abscess. The infection may cause the bone around your tooth to break down. You may need to have your tooth removed.

How can I help prevent future tooth problems?

Take good care of your teeth to prevent cavities, tooth injuries, and other tooth problems. Visit your dental caregiver regularly to have your teeth cleaned and checked for problems. If you think you have a cavity or other tooth problem, see your dental caregiver right away.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your new filling or crown falls out or feels like it is out of place.

  • Your tooth cracks or breaks.

  • Your tooth hurts when you bite down.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have increasing pain that does not go away with pain medicine.

  • You have new or increased swelling in your gums or face.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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