"Root canal treatments" have had a bad rap in general, and it is highly unfair. They have helped an enormous amount of people preserve teeth that would otherwise have been lost, and often for a long time.
"Endodontics" (or "work within a tooth") are used when the living part of the tooth, the "nerve" is either very sick -creating a horrible toothache- or dead -creating eventually an infection or "abscess". Not fun in either case....
A funny way to describe a root canal treatment is that it is like stuffing an animal: remove the part that has gone -or will go - bad, and keep the useful outside part. A tooth is made of a very solid -and useful- external shell, and there is a small internal area filled with nerves, blood vessels and living stuff: that's what "goes bad". So why throw the baby out with the old water? The dentist or endodontic specialist will remove the living part, clean the inside and then fill it (or stuff it, if someone prefers) with a non-reactive rubber compound.
In most cases, unless the tooth is badly fractured or extensively destroyed by carious lesions, it is worth saving. If the roots and the base of the tooth are still sound, it can still most likely be preserved with a root canal treatment, usually followed by something to reinforce the tooth (after all, it WAS usually beaten up in the first place, that's why it went bad!) such as a post and then a solid crown to cover the whole thing. A common mistake, especially for a posterior steak-and-nut-chewing tooth, is NOT to reinforce it with a crown...The root-canaled tooth is unfortunately also a "dry tooth" (no blood vessels bringing fluids inside), and becomes brittle and more fracture-prone over time.
Is it a fool-proof treatment? No, as is true for all medical and dental treatments. Nothing is ever 100% sure. However, the success rates of endodontics are extremely high (90%+), so it is certainly worth trying in most cases.
"They are terrible"...Not at all. Done properly, with appropriate local anesthetics, no, they do not hurt...Tedious? Most do not take that long, but there are exceptions. Every tooth is different!
Dr. Ashba does a lot of root canals, but will refer to a specialist if she judges that you would benefit from an endodontist's touch.
Although we are dental implant specialists at Advanced Smile and Dental Arts, we firmly believe that a tooth worth saving should be saved. As our in-house board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon likes to say, "I have extracted teeth in people in their 80's, 90's and even a 100...No dental implant will ever give you that long". As great as dental implants are, they still do not compare to a natural tooth root worth saving.
It will be our pleasure to try to give you the best advice we can about saving your tooth!
For more information, you can click below on "Endodontics" (left), then on the video "Root canal procedure" (the Post and Core stuff is a bit too technical, but you can certainly watch it!). Enjoy!
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