Every tooth has a nerve and blood supply going to it through its roots that are situated in the jaw bone. Through certain situations, the nerve of a tooth can become infected and can in turn lead to pain, abscesses and swelling of the surrounding gum and tissues. The infection is caused by common oral bacteria entering the root canals and affecting the tooth’s nerve system. Once the bacteria hit the nerve, they can quickly travel down the nerve and into the bone. Once this occurs, an abscess can form below the tooth.
Decay (bacteria in a tooth) in the tooth deep enough to hit the nerve (most common cause)
Infection of the surrounding gum and bone – leading to infection of the nerve
A broken tooth leading to an exposed nerve (i.e. through a physical trauma like a sports injury)
The tooth itself can be sore to touch and chew, or even just sensitive to stimuli such as sweet foods and hot and cold. Usually a more common sign is a continuous pain (dull or throbbing) that seems to be getting worse. Many patients will even complain of a pain that stops them from sleeping or wakes them up at night.
When a tooth is infected, or even has the potential of being infected, a root canal is or may be the only way to save the tooth (opposed to an extraction). Effectively, a root canal is a form of mummifying the tooth so that it can remain in the mouth whilst being non-vital.
A root canal treatment usually comprises of 3 distinct stages:
Stage 1: This is the stage of removing the nerve from the root canal of the tooth. Often this stage is done when a patient is already in pain and can be slightly uncomfortable due to the hypersensitive state of the nerve caused by the bacteria. It is also possible that the nerve is already dead at this point. When removing the nerve, the blood supply to the tooth (the blood supply carried the nutrients to the tooth to keep it alive).
Stage 2: In this stage, the main objective is to clean and shape the root canals where the nerve once sat in. The purpose for this is to systematically remove all the bacteria from the root canal system and systematically shape the canals so that they can be properly filled to prevent any further re-infection.
Stage 3: After having prepared the canals in stage 2, it is important to seal the canals to prevent re-infection by bacteria. This material used to seal the canals is a modified rubber based material called “Gutta Percha”.
The 2 most common side effects of a root canal to a tooth are:
Due to the lack of blood supply to the tooth, the tooth can begin to discolour.
Due to the lack of blood supply to the tooth, the tooth can become weak and can fracture or break relatively easily.
Because of these 2 common consequences of root canal, it is usually recommended that a Crown be carried out on the tooth as a final restoration. A crown (or cap) is used to sit over the tooth to hold it together and to change the tooth’s aesthetics.
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