When your toothache is traced to an infected nerve, your dentist will determine if the nerve has deteriorated past the point of no return. If so, it will need to be removed and this involves a root canal. Although you're undoubtedly familiar with the term, you might be unfamiliar with the process. What do root canals involve?
1. Numb the Gums
You will be given an anesthetic. This is a local anesthetic that numbs the gums around the affected tooth.
2. Isolate the Tooth
The tooth in question is isolated using a rubber dental dam. The dam prevents cross-contamination, helping to stop any further infection.
3. Access the Tooth
A dental drill is then used to make an access hole in the tooth. The vibrations of the drill may be unpleasant, but shouldn't be painful—courtesy of the local anesthetic you received earlier.
4. Extract the Nerve
The infected nerve is now accessible. There are a variety of possible methods for extracting it, but they all involve delicately removing the nerve with an endodontic file.
5. Irrigate the Pulp Chamber
A small amount of infected nerve tissue may remain in the pulp chamber, but it must all be removed. Your dentist will use a chemical solution to irrigate the chamber, and this should dissolve any remaining nerve tissue.
6. Fill the Pulp Chamber
The pulp chamber cannot remain empty. A hollow section in the tooth's internal structure will significantly weaken the tooth. The pulp chamber is filled with gutta-percha, a type of latex commonly used in dentistry. The access hole is now closed with a temporary filling.
7. The Waiting Game
Your dentist will schedule a follow-up appointment in the not-too-distant future. During this time you must use caution with your diet, avoiding foods that can break or loosen your temporary filling. You must report any pain, swelling, or anything that may indicate further infection to your dentist.
8. Re-Treatment (If Needed)
It's unlikely, but reinfection can occur if any infected nerve tissue remains. If needed, your dentist can remove the temporary filling and reapply a chemical irrigant to the tooth's pulp chamber.
9. Permanent Filling and Finishing the Process
At the follow-up appointment, the temporary filling will be taken out and replaced with its permanent counterpart. This will be made of composite dental resin and will match the color of the rest of the tooth. In teeth toward the front of your mouth, a filling should be adequate to restore the tooth's structure. For teeth toward the back of the mouth that handle your chewing, some extra reinforcement is needed, and this comes in the form of a dental crown.
Removing a nerve from your mouth might sound intensive, but the process is straightforward and predictable.
Contact a local dentist to learn more about root canals.