Often a toothache is caused by decay within the tooth or a damaged filling and can easily be treated by your dental professional. A drill or laser will be used to remove the decayed area, the cavity will be cleaned of bacteria and debris, and the tooth will then be filled and polished. In cases where a patient is experiencing more severe pain, the dentist may find that decay has reached the tooth’s nerve, resulting in infection. In such cases, root canal therapy will often be recommended in order to restore the tooth’s health and also to alleviate the associated pain. Antibiotics may be prescribed as well if a fever and/or inflammation is present.
Each tooth has a center canal beneath the layers of enamel and dentin (layer below the enamel), called the root canal. The inside of the canal is what is referred to as the pulp chamber. The pulp chamber contains tissue as well as nerves and blood vessels. When advanced decay allows bacteria and infection to reach the pulp, the affected nerves and blood vessels break down and can foster the growth and spread of the infection, often resulting in an abscessed tooth. Abscess, if left untreated, can lead to more severe damage to the oral cavity including severe swelling, bone loss and drainage issues.
Root canal therapy, also known as endodontics, is the study of the cause, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of the dental pulp. After obtaining a dental degree, a dentist must receive 2-3 additional years of postgraduate training in order to become an endodontist. The procedures performed by this dental specialist may be quite simple or complicated, depending on the cause and severity of infection, but usually the procedure is relatively pain-free and is completed in one or two dental visits. Treatment involves the removal of the pulp and nerves before the inside of the tooth is cleaned and then sealed and filled.
After a root canal is completed, additional restoration of the affected tooth may be necessary. If the infection was caused by extensive decay or an acute crack, a crown may need to be placed on the tooth to protect it, prevent it from breaking and restore it to its full function. Speak to your dental professional about the extent of damage done and what to expect throughout the plan of treatment.
Once a tooth has broken through the gums, the tooth’s nerve is no longer vital to its health besides its provision of a sensory effect (hot/cold). The nerve, or the removal thereof, will therefore not affect the tooth’s strength or function, allowing a tooth that has had the pulp removed to remain useable and healthy. Keeping your natural teeth intact if at all possible is regularly recommended since missing teeth can cause deterioration of the jawbone as well as shifting of the surrounding teeth into the space remaining after extraction.
If, however, a tooth cannot be successfully restored through root canal therapy, extraction may be the only alternative, followed by replacement of the tooth via a bridge, denture or possibly an implant with a crown covering it if the bone can support it.
For more information about root canal therapy, or to schedule an appointment, call Gentle Dental in Queens at 718-461-0100.