The bare minimum required to create the conditions that will ultimately require root canal treatment is simple: bacteria.
When bacteria makes its way into your tooth, it can do so in a couple ways. Virtually all of them lead to the possibility that you might need root canal treatment. Some are fast – like when a tooth breaks, while others are slow – like when a small crack or cavity allows bacteria to slowly work its way into the delicate internal tissues of your tooth’s “dental pulp”.
More often than not, the first symptom of this slow (or fast) process is equally simple: pain. While the inflammation and infection that ultimately requires a root canal might not always be painful, other symptoms include:
- Throbbing pain
- Intense sensitivity
- A pimple-like bump on your gum, sometimes it could be draining into your mouth
- A large cavity or filling
But how does it work?
To understand how root canal treatment saves your tooth, you have to first understand what it is. Inside your tooth, with direct access to your tooth’s root and all of the underlying tissue and bone, is your dental pulp. The dental pulp is a collection of nerves and tissue that supplies your teeth with vital nutrients when your tooth is still growing. When your tooth has a cavity or crack, bacteria can work its way into the dental pulp – infecting it – and spreading deeper and deeper.
When your dentist performs root canal treatment to eliminate this infection, the bacteria is cleaned out by removing the pulp and the bacteria. As an adult, you don’t need your dental pulp. The surrounding tissue will continue to help sustain your teeth.
By removing the pulp and the bacteria, your dentist gets rid of the infection, seals the tooth (sometimes even adding a crown) and prevents any bacteria or infection to progress further and continue to spread it’s damage. To do so, your dentist first drills a small access hole into the tooth. Using this hole, your dentist uses a series of files to carefully file away the dental pulp and eliminate the infection. After this is accomplished, the space is filled with a special medicated gel to ensure that all bacteria is taken care of. In many cases, a temporary filling will be installed to ensure the bacteria is completely gone, before the tooth is permanently sealed on a subsequent visit.