The tooth nerve (pulp) is what gives life to your tooth and enables it to feel temperature, pain, etc. The nerve runs in hollow channels (canals) inside the hard tooth and looks like a piece of soft spaghetti when it is healthy, and disintegrates to a gray mush when it is infected.
When the nerve of a tooth is damaged by decay or trauma, the nerve needs to be removed to save the tooth. This procedure is commonly referred to as a root canal. Dr. Rebecca Hartfield performs root canals in her office for most teeth.
Reasons for Root Canals
- Deep decay into the nerve
- Infected teeth
- Painful teeth (aching, throbbing, waking you up at night)
- Severely broken teeth where the break affects the nerve
- Broken teeth where an internal support post is needed to be able to repair the tooth
What Is a Root Canal?
A root canal procedure removes the nerve of the tooth but leaves the hard structure of the roots and most of the top of the tooth. A root canal does not remove the hard root that is anchored in the bone. Most front teeth have one canal but back teeth can have between one and four canals. Most molar teeth have at least three canals.
When doing a root canal, Dr. Hartfield must enter into the top of the tooth to get to the space where the nerve lives. This top area where the nerve is found is called the pulp chamber. The nerve extends from this chamber down the canals inside each root all the way to the tip of each root. Both the chamber and the canals need to be cleaned of any dying nerve tissue to eliminate this as a source of infection.
Once Dr. Hartfield has access to the pulp chamber, she cleans the infected/dead nerve tissue out of the chamber until she can see the entrances to the nerve canals. She then uses a series of small files to gently clean all infected material from the inside of the tooth. Once all the canals are clean, a material called gutta percha is placed into the canals to fill the empty space in the roots. At this point, a temporary filling is placed in the top of the tooth to cover it until a crown can be done.
Why Do I Need a Crown after Having a Root Canal?
A root canal removes the nerve of the tooth. When a tooth no longer has a nerve, it has also lost its blood supply and it becomes more brittle and more prone to fracture. A crown is needed over the tooth to encase it and give it support to protect the tooth from splitting pressures while chewing. If you do not get a crown on a tooth that has had a root canal, you run a high chance that the tooth will break and may need to be extracted.
Do You Have a Painful Tooth?
If you’re in pain, please call Dr. Rebecca Hartfield at (618) 234-7100. If you call before 9 AM, our office staff will work to get you a same-day appointment to evaluate the tooth and see if you need a root canal.