Why Do I Need a Root Canal?

Dental teeth, mouth, gums dentists teaching model showing each tooth and roots.

A root canal is a dental treatment that repairs and saves teeth that are badly decayed or infected.

What is a root canal?

There is a tiny amount of nerve tissue contained within a small chamber inside of the tooth and that goes down the middle of each root. A root canal involves removing the infected or inflamed tissue from this space. The space is then sterilized and filled down to the tip of the root. The tooth is then built up with filling material and a crown is placed over the top of the tooth to restore the strength and function. Root canals are 80-90% effective in restoring the health of the tooth. This is a very good success rate but there is always a chance that the infection will not heal and the tooth will need to be removed.

Why is a root canal necessary?

A root canal is usually needed because the nerve inside the tooth has become infected or irreversibly inflamed. This can be the result of a deep cavity, or a history of extensive previous dental treatment. Trauma can also cause the nerve inside the tooth to die. If the tooth receives an injury the nerve may die quickly and cause problems right away or it may take years to occur. There may or may not be any signs there is a problem with the tooth. The diagnosis may have been made after examining a routine x-ray of the tooth or you may have had pain and or swelling telling you something was wrong.

Does the root canal hurt?

We have all heard the jokes and stories of pain associated with root canal therapy. If the tooth is properly anesthetized there should not be any pain involved. A root canal is really just a filling that goes all the way to the tip of the root so it should not be any more uncomfortable than having a filling done. Modern anesthetics have made having a root canal done a very comfortable procedure.

What might happen if you decide not to have a root canal?

If left untreated the infection that is present in the tooth can drain out the tip of the root and infect the surrounding bone. The infection can then spread to the surrounding area through the bone. It can lead to infections of the eye, sinus, throat, cheek or other areas. This can complicate the treatment needed to heal the infection and can even lead to life threatening consequences. The infection can travel into the eye socket and cause an infection of the brain. If the infection goes into the throat it can travel into the chest cavity and infect the heart and lungs.

What is the long-term success of a root canal?

Many times the long-term success of a root canal is determined by properly restoring the tooth. Most of the time a tooth with a root canal will need to have a crown placed in order to strengthen and seal it. This is a critical step that is often not done, leading to the loss of the tooth even though the root canal was a success in healing the infection.

If a root canal is not done when recommended, the tooth should be extracted. There is no other way to remove the source of the infection and it is too dangerous to leave it untreated. If the tooth is removed it will need to be replaced to keep the other teeth in the area from shifting and possibly affecting the bite. This can be accomplished by placing a bridge or an implant.


If you have any more questions about root canals, don’t be afraid to reach out. Give any of our offices a call, and we’ll be happy to set up a consultation for you!

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