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Endodontics

What is Endodontic Treatment?

"Endo" is the Greek word for "inside" and "odont" is Greek for "tooth." Endodontic treatment is treatment of the inside of the tooth.

Endodontic treatment is necessary when the pulp of a tooth becomes inflamed or infected. The Inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: Deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, a blow 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 or lead to an abscess.

Signs of pulp damage include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat of cold, discoloration of the tooth, and swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums. Sometimes, there are no symptoms.

How does endodontic treatment work?

The endodontist removes the inflamed or infected pulp, carefully cleans and shapes the inside of the tooth, then fills and seals the space. Afterwards, you will return to your dentist, who will place a crown or an other restoration on the tooth continues to function like any other tooth.

Endodontic treatment procedure

Endodontic treatment can often be performed in one or two visits and involves the following steps:

The endodontist examines and x-rays the tooth, then administers local anesthetic. After the tooth is numb, the endodontist places a small protective sheet called a "dental dam" over the area to isolate the tooth and keep it clean and free of saliva during the procedure.
The endodontist makes an opening in the crown of the tooth. Very small instruments are used to clean the pulp from the pulp chamber and root canals and to shape the space for filling.
After the space is cleaned and shaped, the endodontist fills the root canals with a biocompatible material, usually a rubber-like material called "gutta-percha." The gutta-percha is placed with and adhesive cement to ensure complete sealing of the root canal. In most cases, a temporary filling is placed to close the opening. The temporary filling will be removed by your dentist before the tooth is restored.
After the final visit with your endodontist, you must return to your dentist to have a crown or other restoration placed on the tooth to protect and restore it to full function.
If the tooth lacks sufficient structure to hold the restoration in place, your dentist or endodontist may place a post inside the tooth. Ask your dentist or endodontist for more details about the specific restoration planned for your tooth.

What are the alternatives to endodontic treatment?

When the pulp of a tooth is damaged, the only alternative to endodontic treatment is extraction of the tooth. To restore chewing function and to prevent adjacent teeth from shifting, the extracted tooth must be replaced with an implant or bridge. This requires surgery or dental procedures on adjacent healthy teeth and can be far more costly and time-consuming than endodontic treatment and restoration of the natural tooth.

No matter how effective modern tooth replacements are (and they can be very effective) nothing is as good as a natural tooth.

For more information

If you would like further information about endodontic treatment, your endodontist will be happy to talk with you, or you may write to the American Association of Endodontists.