Although the teeth may look solid, each tooth has soft tissue (called pulp) inside the root of the tooth. A root canal is a dental surgical procedure (also called an endodontic procedure) to clean out the pulp and remove any infected, diseased, or decayed pulp. The procedure is usually performed in the dentist’s office with local anesthetic.
When the pulp in a tooth becomes inflamed or infected, a root canal may be necessary. The problem can result from a deeply decayed tooth, dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. Untreated, these problems can lead to an abscess. Although sometimes you won't have any symptoms, common symptoms include pain, sensitivity to heat and cold, swelling, drainage, or tenderness in the tissues and lymph nodes.
A root canal may take one or two visits. First, the dentist X-rays the tooth and administers a local anesthetic. A dental dam (a small protective sheet) is used to keep saliva out of the area during the procedure. The dentist makes an opening in the crown of the tooth and uses very small instruments to clean out the pulp and shape the space for a filling of a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. A temporary filling is then placed to close the opening. You'll need a second visit for a crown or other dental restoration to make the tooth fully functional.
You'll need to be careful not to chew or bite on the treated tooth until it has been completely restored, as there is a risk the tooth could break. If there is any pain, it should be minimal, and over-the-counter pain medications will probably be sufficient. Follow good oral hygiene practices: floss daily, brush twice a day, and see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. Most teeth last for a lifetime after a root canal.
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