An endodontist treats problems of the dental pulp, the soft tissue within the tooth that contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue which helps create the surrounding hard tissue that makes up the outside of the tooth. The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tips of the roots and into the surrounding tissue. Dental pulp is vital to the growth and development of healthy teeth, but is not necessarily needed once the tooth has fully matured.
Endodontic treatment is needed when the dental pulp becomes infected or inflamed. This may occur as a result of decay, repeated dental procedures, a crack or chip in the tooth or injury with no visible signs of damage. When the pulp is affected, it can lead to pain or the development of an abscess, as well as increased sensitivity, tenderness and discoloration.
Problems within the dental pulp can often be identified through X-ray images. Occasionally, these problems do not show up on an X-ray, despite the patient's complaints of related symptoms. In such cases, a diagnostic root canal may be performed to help identify tiny holes or cracks in the tooth that may be the cause of dental pulp damage.
Sometimes referred to as the practice of root canal therapy, endodontics encompasses a wide range of surgical and non-surgical procedures that keep the teeth free from diseases and injuries of the pulp and surrounding tissue. Like other dental specialties, the goal of endodontics is to maintain good oral health. Common endodontic procedures include:
A root canal is an endodontic procedure and one of the most common dental procedures overall. A root canal can help both diagnose and treat damage within the dental pulp. The pulp can become damaged from a cracked tooth or dental infection and should be removed to prevent further damage such as:
- Bone loss
- Discoloration and swelling
A root canal is performed by drilling a hole in the tooth to reach the inside portion of the tooth. The inside of the tooth is thoroughly cleansed and the hole is filled sealing the tooth and preventing dirt or bacteria from entering the tooth. A temporary filling is placed. This procedure is performed under a local anesthetic in the doctor's office. Follow-up appointments are needed to restore the appearance of the tooth with a permanent filling or crown, preventing further damage.
Also known as root-end resection, an apicoectomy is performed to remove damaged pulp located in the bony area at the end of the tooth. This damage may be a result of a previous root canal procedure. During an apicoectomy, the surrounding tissue is opened and the infected tissue and end of the root, are removed. A small filling is placed in the root to seal the area and prevent future damage. Stitches are placed to help the area heal.
Other types of endodontic surgery may be performed for severe cases that may be a result of traumatic dental injuries.
Recovery from Endodontic Treatment
After endodontic treatment, patients may experience pain, swelling and increased sensitivity in the treated area for one to two days. Anti-inflammatory medication can be helpful to treat the pain and swelling. After recovery, most patients report that their treated tooth feels the same as their natural teeth and have no problems eating, speaking or smiling.