Endodontic or root canal treatment must be performed on a tooth once the tooth nerve has been compromised. This happens whenever the bacteria associated with tooth decay has reached the nerve area called the pulp or when the nerve and blood vessels have died due to deep decay, restorations, or tooth fracture. All of these senarios have led to or will lead to a tooth abscess and pain if treatment is not received.
Root Canal Procedure
To perform root canal treatment, a dentist will numb the tooth and use a handpiece to make a hole in the biting surface of the tooth until they reach the pulp chamber in the center of the tooth. This area is the largest part of the tooth containing the nerves and blood vessels. The dentist then proceeds to remove all remnants of nerve, blood vessel, and infection from the chamber and down the roots of tooth. They then open up the canals running down the roots in order to get a filling material called gutta purcha, a rubbery plastic material, down to the tips of the root. They will use this material to seal the inside of the canals so the bacteria and infection cannot reenter the tooth. After this, an amalgam (silver) or composite resin (tooth-colored) material will be used to seal the hole in the biting surface of the tooth and most commonly a crown will be needed to hold the tooth together as teeth tend to get brittle and break after the blood supply is removed.
Root Canal Success Rate
Generally speaking, the success rate of endodontic treatment runs between 90-95%. The most common cause of failure is not properly restoring the tooth with a crown after the root canal treatment, Decay getting back into the root canal space either under the existing crown or restoration, or root fracture due to the overall brittleness of the tooth.
Alternatives to a Root Canal
The only alternative treatment available at this time is tooth extraction which if this path is chosen, the tooth can be replaced by either a partial denture, fixed bridge, or a dental implant.