By Brian J. Gray, DDS, MAGD, FICO
Many people flinch when their dentists tell them they need root canal therapy. While dentists are sympathetic to fears of pain, they also want patients to know that root canal procedure has three purposes:
Root canals are actually channels that run from the root of the tooth, which connects to the bone, up to the top surface of the tooth. The canal contains blood vessels, nerves and the complex cells that make up the living tissue inside the tooth. This lifeline inside the tooth is called the pulp.
When a tooth is decayed or cracked, bacteria can get to the pulp. The acid from the bacteria irritates the pulp and it becomes inflamed; it's the same process you watch when other parts of your body become infected. When the pulp tissue becomes inflamed, it's harder for blood to flow to the tissue, and the resulting pressure creates the pain symptoms inside your tooth.
There are two ways to get relief from root canal pain: perform the root canal procedure, or pull the tooth, clean the gum below, and replace the tooth with a denture or bridge. Dentists advise pulling teeth as a last resort because they know that your natural teeth are the ones best suited for your mouth.
It's important to have the root canal procedure done quickly. The bacteria will travel down the canal to the root and into the jawbone. If this happens, the pain of your toothache will spread to your jaw. Even more important, the infection can cause your jawbone to deteriorate and weaken the structure that holds your teeth.
The best way to avoid root canal therapy is to take good daily care of your teeth to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. Brushing and flossing are important.
Just as important are regular trips to the dentist, to check for the first sign of decay or cracks that could eventually lead to an infected tooth. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!