What is a Root Canal (and How is it Done?)

Root Canal
Root Canal
Human teeth anatomy. Cross section of human tooth. 3d illustration

Endodontic treatment—more frequently referred to as a root canal procedure—is a special type of dental service that helps preserve damaged or infected teeth. More often than not, you’ll need a root canal as a last line of defense before removing it altogether.

What is a Root Canal?

You can think of a root canal almost like a dental filling. Except with a traditional filling, voids/cavities in the top of the tooth are filled. In the case of a root canal, the filling material goes deeper inside the tooth to fill and seal off all of the empty nerve chambers running through the root structures. These sealed areas block any bacteria from re-entering the tooth.

Endodontic treatment removes the nerve tissues inside the tooth that is dying, traumatized, or infected. By performing a root canal, our endodontist (San Diego) can prevent the need to remove the tooth altogether.

When a cavity is limited to the outer layers of tooth, a filling or crown is usually more than adequate for treating the issue. But once the tooth’s nerve becomes involved, endodontic treatment is a must.

The Root Canal Procedure

Understanding how a root canal is performed can help put your mind at ease about the endodontic procedure.

What is a root canal, and how is it done? Essentially, we are removing the pulp tissues inside of a dying or abscessed tooth. When we take this step, we can preserve the surrounding tooth structure for several more years.

During a root canal, our San Diego dentist will carefully numb the tooth to prevent any discomfort during your procedure. If there is a severe infection or abscess, an antibiotic will reduce the inflammation leading up to your appointment to improve your comfort level.

After the tooth is completely numb, we create a small opening in the crown to access the nerve tissues. From there, the pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned, medicated, and sealed off.

Once your endodontic procedure is complete, we will need to place a crown over the tooth to protect the structure that’s left behind. Since your tooth no longer has a vital blood supply, it’s generally weaker and more prone to chipping. A crown will reinforce the remaining tooth so that you can continue biting and chewing normally.

After your root canal, there may be some minor tenderness where the local anesthetic was injected. An over-the-counter pain reliever such as Motrin is usually more than adequate. Because the nerve tissues are removed, the tooth cannot feel any discomfort after the endodontic procedure.

Do I Need a Root Canal?

Although toothaches usually accompany a tooth with nerve damage, some teeth never hurt at all. You may need a root canal if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • Severe pain in a specific area of your mouth
  • Sensitivity to hot temperatures (coffee, soup, etc.)
  • Visible abscess or swelling on the gums
  • Pain when you bite down
  • A deep crack or cavity
  • Fractured root
  • Traumatic injury to the tooth
  • Darkening of the tooth overall

Why not remove the tooth, you ask? Extracting an abscessed or decaying tooth creates added spacing between your teeth, leading to other teeth drifting out of alignment. Over the months ahead, the misaligned teeth will wear down irregularly, change how your TMJ functions, and even cause aesthetic concerns.

Endodontic treatment prevents added costs like tooth replacement or alignment therapy, minimizing the overall impact on your smile.

The only way to know for certain if you need a root canal or not is to have an X-ray taken of the tooth to see the full root structure and areas around it. If there are signs of an abscess or decay that has ruptured into the nerve chamber, a root canal will be necessary.

Visit Our Endodontist | San Diego

Downtown Dental Specialty provides comprehensive endodontic therapy in a gentle, relaxing atmosphere. If you’re struggling with a chronic dental abscess or toothache, specialized root canal therapy is the best way to save your smile.

Contact our San Diego office today to reserve an exam with our expert dental team.