The term endodontic is a combination of the Greek words endo, which means "inside" and odont, which means "tooth." Endodontic treatment involves treating the inside of the tooth and is also referred to as root canal therapy because it is focused on the root part of the tooth, specifically in the canal portion of the root where the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue of the tooth reside.
Inside of a tooth, under the white enamel and a layer called the dentin, is soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue.
Root canal therapy is necessary when the pulp becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep decay due to bacteria, multiple dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, trauma to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain, and/or lead to an abscess. Signs of pulp damage may include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, discoloration of the tooth, and swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all.
Treating the Tooth
A traditional root canal involves removing the inflamed or infected pulp, carefully cleaning and shaping the canals inside of the tooth, then filling and sealing the space inside the canal. This can take three visits or more. It is possible to do root canal therapy in one visit if there is no obvious infection present. A crown holds the tooth together and reduces the likelihood of the tooth fracturing in the future. Back teeth often need crowns since a great amount of tooth structure may be lost from decay, which makes them more susceptible to fracture. Front teeth occasionally need crowns and are restored with a crown on a case-by-case basis.
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