The visible, exterior layer of a tooth is called the enamel. Beneath the enamel is another hard layer, called the dentin. The dentin surrounds a small chamber at the center of the tooth that contains the pulp. Tooth pulp is a soft tissue made up of nerves, arteries, and veins. The pulp extends from the pulp chamber down through narrow channels, called the root canals, to the tips of the roots.
The two most common causes of infection in the pulp are deep cavities and fractures or broken teeth. Both expose the pulp to bacteria that live in saliva. These bacteria, which are always present in your mouth, can cause an infection that can kill the pulp. Without treatment, the pus from the infection can eventually gather down at the root tip and pass into the jaw bone, causing an abscess (a pus pocket). The abscess can then damage the bone that surrounds the tooth. The resulting pressure inside the bone and ligaments surrounding the tooth can cause excruciating pain, and left untreated, can even be life threatening.
You may have realized that you had an infected tooth because it was sensitive to hot and cold, was swollen and painful, or had given you a bad taste in your mouth. On the other hand, you may have been completely unaware that you had an infection because you experienced no symptoms at all.
An infected tooth will never heal on its own, and as it gets worse, it will continue to be a source of infection that depletes your immune system, which can affect your entire body. Years ago, your only option would be for us to extract the tooth. But today, we can remove the infection with root canal therapy, and save your tooth.
Root canal therapy often takes two or more appointments to complete. A temporary filling or crown is placed to protect the tooth between appointments, but you should take the following precautions to protect your tooth and ease any discomfort.
Usually, the last step after root canal treatment is the placement of a crown on the tooth. A crown covers the tooth and protects it from breaking in the future. Please call our office if your bite feels uneven, if you have persistent swelling or pain, or if you have any other questions or concerns.
To further reduce pain and swelling, rinse three times a day with warm salt water (a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water). To protect the tooth and help keep your temporary filling or crown in place, avoid eating sticky or hard foods (especially gum), and if possible, chew only on the opposite side of your mouth. It's important to continue to brush normally, but floss very carefully. To prevent removal of the crown, remove the floss by pulling it through the teeth, not down or up from between the space between teeth.
Your lips, teeth, and tongue may be numb for several hours after appointments in which we've used an anesthetic. Avoid chewing anything until the numbness has completely worn off.
It's common, and not a problem, for a small portion of your temporary filling to wear away or break off between appointments. If the entire filling falls out, or if a temporary crown comes off, call us so that we can replace it.
It's normal to experience some discomfort for several days after a root canal appointment, especially when chewing. To control discomfort, take pain medication as recommended. If antibiotics are prescribed, continue to take them for the indicated length of time, even if all symptoms and signs of infection are gone.