Root canal is a dental procedure that is sometimes seen as a “last resort” to save a tooth. The fact is that when a tooth is decayed on the inside and the nerves and root are affected, a root canal is the only way to save the tooth. Without a root canal, the tooth will either need to be extracted, or it will eventually fall out. People today tend to get fewer cavities than they used to, and this is largely thanks to fluoride, but tooth decay is still a common problem and root canal procedures are still performed regularly.
Root canals are usually performed by specialists called endodontists. General dentists can perform root canals, but many dentists refer their patients to endodontists for root canals. Endodontists have specialized training beyond dental school. Every year in the United States about 15 million root canals are performed. About 95% of root canals are successful and do not require retreatment.
A root canal cleans out the inside of the tooth, removing all decay and diseased tissue. This part of the tooth is called the pulp. After the area is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, a rubbery material is used as a filler to restore the tooth. The hole that was made in the tooth to enter it is sealed, and in some cases the tooth may receive a crown to give it more strength. The procedure is usually performed in one office visit, with a permanent filling or crown being placed on a second visit.
Root canal is performed under local anesthesia and is described by most patients as virtually painless. Pain after the procedure is usually limited to soreness or sensitivity for a few days. Root canal eliminates toothache pain that is caused by a decayed tooth. After a root canal the newly restored tooth may feel different, but normal eating can be resumed quite quickly.
When a dentist recommends a root canal, the tooth is at the point where it cannot be saved any other way. The only alternative to root canal is to lose the tooth. A lost tooth can be replaced by an artificial tooth or an implant, but saving your natural teeth is the best option.