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Ask Dr. ProtzerWhat is root canal treatment?

RCT is a common procedure for removing infected dental pulp before disinfecting, shaping, and filling the root canal system.

The Root of the Problem

The space inside the hard layers of each tooth is called the root canal system. The system is filled with soft tissue. This is called the “dental pulp”. Dental pulp consists of connective tissue, blood vessels, other cells, and nerve tissue. It helps your tooth grow and develop.

If bacteria enter your tooth through deep cavities, cracks, or flawed fillings, dental pulp can become infected. We may notice the infection from a dental x-ray or from other changes with the tooth.

A tooth with infected pulp (a.k.a. an abscessed tooth) may cause pain and/or swelling. If left untreated, an infected tooth can cause serious oral health problems.

If dental pulp becomes infected, it needs to be removed. Either by means of a root canal treatment (RCT) or extraction of the tooth.

Root canal treatment is also known as endodontic treatment.

I’ve heard that RCTs hurt – is that true?
This is a common misconception – root canal treatments do NOT hurt. We have performed over 10,000 RCTs.

How is a RCT Performed?

  1. We will freeze (numb) your tooth completely.
  2. We make an opening in the tooth to reach the root canal system and the damaged pulp.
  3. Using very fine dental instruments, we then remove the pulp by cleaning and enlarging the root canal system.
  4. After the canal system has been cleaned, we place a medication and a temporary filling.
  5. Two weeks later we fill and seal the canals and place a temporary or permanent filling.

Root canal treatments are usually done in two appointments. After a root canal treatment your tooth may be tender for the first day or so, and somewhat tender to biting for the first week.

Bad pain or swelling are NOT common after RCT. If this happens, call us!

Most of the time a tooth that has had a root canal treatment can be saved. However, there are cases where everything possible has been done to save a tooth and still the tooth must be extracted (pulled).

Tooth Restoration After RCT

After a root canal treatment, your tooth has to be restored (fixed) to look, feel, and work as much like a natural tooth as possible.

When restoring molars (back teeth) after a RCT, a crown has to be placed. Otherwise the tooth will break and be lost.

Root Canal Retreatment

The vast majority of RCTs are successful – over 90%!

In some rare cases a retreatment is needed. When retreating a tooth, the root canal filling material is taken out, and the canal system is recleaned, reshaped and refilled. Sometimes we will find an additional canal. The rate of success can vary, depending on the first treatment.


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