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What is a root canal?

When people say “root canal” they typically refer to a specific endodontic procedure or oral surgery procedure. Strictly speaking, a root canal is in fact a part of the tooth's anatomy, a hollow which contains nerve and blood vessels. The procedure is done when the dentist or oral surgeon decides the tooth is “beyond repair,” due to decay, cracking or infection.

This procedure is very common and, if performed correctly, almost painless, although most people fear it as one of the most terrifying procedures that can be done on teeth.

Complications of root canal treatment

Rarely, in less than 5 percent of cases, during the first couple of days after the procedure, there may be a flare-up of the tooth, usually painful. This happens when the bacteria that are dying off inside the tooth start releasing toxins into the jaw.

In most cases the pain is minimal or none, and if the procedure is done when first indicated the patients report significant relief of the discomfort and pain they were experiencing before the procedure was performed.

Some people may experience more pain than others after the root canal treatment, however it will gradually subside in the following days.

It is possible that the tooth will swell in the socket and be slightly raised over the other teeth, causing a strange feeling of discomfort while chewing on that side of the mouth. The endodontists usually fix this problem by adjusting the bite.

Another possible complication that may occur is breaking of the endodontic file, a tool used for extracting the contents of the canal. If this happens, the endodontist will usually cement the file inside the tooth and leave it there. For some people this may cause problems but in others there will be no sign the file is even there.

In case the tooth fractures during the procedure, it may cause some pain. The fracture is diagnosed with microscope or with dye and it can be easily fixed by crowning.

Sometimes the body is just not able to fight the infection inside the tooth, the infection persists or progresses and it requires a new root canal treatment.

If there is still some infection left in the bone, a procedure called apicoectomy will be required. In this procedure a small incision is made in the gum just above the tooth, the infection is extracted from there and the area is cleaned and sterilized.

Since the root canal treatment includes extracting the nerve from the tooth, the patient will no longer have the hot or cold sensation in that particular tooth. If the sensation occurs, it may indicate that the procedure is not been successful or complete or, which more often, that there are problems with another tooth located nearby.

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