If a cavity (decay), grinding, or trauma allow bacteria to reach the center of your tooth (pulp), the pulp becomes infected. This is often referred to as an abscess. If left untreated, the infection can spread and cause more damage to your surrounding tissues and bone.
Once the bacteria has reached the pulp, your only treatment choices are a root canal or removing the tooth. All filling the tooth will accomplish is to block off one of the routes of escape for the pressure the infection creates thus causing additional pain and swelling to you.
If you choose a root canal, the first step is to remove damaged pulp. Tiny files are used to accomplish this. They clean and shape the canal where your pulp was. Medications are sometimes used in the canal to help kill bacteria in the infection. An antibiotic prescription may also be needed. For severe infections, your tooth may need to be left open for a few days to drain.
Once your canal is cleaned and shaped, it is dried and a rubbery material called gutta percha is placed with a sealer so that bacteria cannot move back into the now clean canal.
In most cases, a temporary filling is put in tooth between visits (if you need more than one) and after your root canal is finished. This temporary filling is just what the name says. It is meant to be temporary. It will break down over time and allow bacteria to get back into the canal and reinfect it. It needs to be removed and replaced by a permanent filling material.
Unfortunately, removing your dental pulp also removes the way that nutrients get to your tooth. This lack of nutrients can weaken your tooth, much in the way that leaves change in the Fall when they get fewer nutrients. Crowns are recommended to restore most teeth that have had root canals to prevent further damage that can occur to the weakened tooth.
You can learn more about root canals (and crowns) from Dear Doctor in the Patient Education section of my website, www.drjrobb.com or by clicking here: Root Canal Treatment, Root Canal Treatment FAQs, Root Canal Treatment for Children, Crowns & Bridgework
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who does root canals on some teeth (and refers to a specialist for those she cannot do). Her office is located at 1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH 44053. Call 440-960-1940.