The “Root” Of Your Tooth Pain
Endodontics is the dental specialty that deals with tissues and structures located inside the tooth. One of the most common endodontic treatments is root canal therapy, a procedure which effectively eases the pain associated with a bacterial infection deep within the pulp of the tooth. Of course, root canal treatment doesn’t just relieve pain – it also stops the infection by removing dead and dying tissue from the tooth’s pulp. Plus, it helps to save the tooth, which is in danger of being lost if left untreated.
What’s inside your teeth? Behind the tough, shiny enamel of the tooth’s visible crown lies the sturdy inner tissue called dentin. Dentin is also found behind the cementum that forms the outer layer of the tooth’s roots – in fact, it makes up the bulk of the tooth’s structure. Similar in many ways to bone tissue, dentin is composed of many tiny tubules, which can transmit sensations to nerve cells when it is stimulated.
At the core of the tooth, inside small, branching chambers called the root canals, we find the soft pulp tissue. This consists of nerves, connective tissues and blood vessels, which extend into the center of the tooth and exit through canals near the apex (tip) of the tooth’s roots. When problems (such as infection and inflammation) develop in the pulp tissue, your first indication of trouble may be tooth sensitivity – or intense pain. In time, as the nerves die, the pain may go away…but the problem won’t. In fact, if left untreated, the end result may be tooth loss.
What could cause the pulp tissue to become diseased and lead to root canal problems? One potential source of infection is untreated tooth decay, which can allow bacteria from the tooth’s surface to work its way deep inside. A crack or fracture in a tooth could offer another pathway for microorganisms to infect the pulp.
Dental trauma – from a sports injury, for example – may also damage dentin or pulp, or expose it to infection. Extensive dental procedures (such as multiple fillings or restorations on the same tooth) may cause trouble; occasionally, even routine procedures like orthodontics may eventually lead to root canal problems.
The old gag line “I’d rather have a root canal” may still get a laugh — but root canal problems are no joke. It’s important to remember that root canal treatment doesn’t cause pain; it relieves pain. A typical root canal procedure is performed with local anesthetics, and doesn’t cause any more discomfort than having a filling.