Did you know it’s Root Canal Awareness Week? May 7-13, the American Association of Endodontics has put together a campaign to educate patients on one of the most maligned but useful procedures in dentistry.

Root canal therapy is one of the most predictable ways to save teeth for the long haul. Despite the fear often associated with treatment, it is often painless. At its most basic, a root canal is a way to “mummify” and preserve a tooth after the nerve has been traumatized and died inside. Usually this can be accomplished in 1-2 visits depending on the complexity and level of infection present.

Root canal therapy is necessary in cases where the nerve of a tooth has been exposed, either mechanically or by decay and bacteria eating away at the tooth. In these cases, bacteria has infected the nerve canal, causing swelling that causes the nerve eventually to die inside the tooth. Once the nerve dies, the canal fills up with bacteria, often causing pain, infection, swelling, and localized destruction of the supporting bone. Root canals are performed by most general dentists, or by specialists in more complicated cases. The procedure calls for isolation of the tooth with a rubber dam, accessing the nerve chamber of the tooth, mechanically and chemically cleansing the dead and/or infected tissue and bacteria, and then sealing the whole thing up with a piece of rubber. In most cases, a crown is necessary to protect the tooth from fracture.

In the case pictured below, the patient was scheduled to get a crown on the molar (the tooth in the center) due to decay around his existing silver fillings. When we took an x-ray to ensure the health of the roots before starting the procedure, we noticed the destruction around the tooth on the right side (circled in red). The patient was having no pain, but had a filling done a number of years ago that was quite close to the nerve space (the dark line through the center of the tooth). We discussed the situation with the patient and completed the root canal that day. As you can see, some of the sealer material extruded into the empty space in the bone left by the bacteria.

before after

Not the clearest pictures, but here are some photographs after the crowns were completed. The patient had no postoperative pain and loves his new teeth!

aftercrown (2) aftercrown

For more information on root canal therapy, click here for the Awareness Week website and informational videos.