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Though the term, "root canal" can strike fear into the hearts of many, root canal therapy is actually a common dental treatment for saving an abscessed tooth.
Why would I need a root canal?
The hard outer layers of a tooth are designed to protect the soft center, which is full of nerves and blood vessels. These nerves and blood vessels run through thin tunnels, or canals, through the roots of the tooth, to the gums. If decay or trauma breaks through the hard layers of the tooth, the inner layer can get infected, creating a painful condition called an abscessed tooth. To prevent the spread of this infection to your gums and the rest of your mouth, you have two choices - pull the tooth, or have root canal therapy. Root canal therapy is preferable because it cleans out the infected part of the tooth, but saves much of rest of the natural tooth.
What is a "root canal" procedure like?
Root canal therapy is really not much more complicated than getting a filling. Some procedures are done right in your dentist's office, and others are handled by a specialist dentist, called an endodontist.
First your dentist will get you numb, with an anesthetic, to keep you comfortable during the procedure. Using special tools, your dentist will create an opening in the top of the tooth, and then remove all the soft tissue from the middle of the tooth and canals down through the roots. These empty spaces are then filled with a substance that disinfects the area and acts as filler. Your dentist may permanently seal the tooth immediately, or may wait one week to make sure the infection has been eliminated.
In most cases where a tooth needed root canal therapy, the visible part of the tooth above the gumline also has extensive damage. In this case, to completely restore the look and function of the tooth, your dentist will probably shape the tooth and fit it with an artificial cap, called a crown.