What is endodontics?
Endodontics is a branch of dentistry recognized by the American Dental Association involving treatment of the pulp (root canal) and surrounding tissues of the tooth. When you look at your tooth in the mirror, what you see is the crown. The rest of the tooth, the portion hidden beneath the gum line, is called the root. Though the outer portion of the root is a hard tissue called dentin, the inside channel or “root canal” contains a pulp of soft tissue, blood vessels and nerves. Bacteria that are introduced into the pulp as a result of tooth decay, periodontal disease, tooth fracture or other problems, can severely damage the pulp. When that happens, an endodontic specialist removes the diseased pulp to save the tooth and prevent further infection and inflammation. After successful endodontic treatment, the tooth continues to perform normally.
Why do I need an endodontist?
Your dentist has decided that your tooth needs special care and has referred you to our office. As an endodontist, Dr. Barkley has advanced training to save teeth with deep decay or cracks, abscessed teeth, and even teeth that have been traumatized. He can also diagnose oral and facial pain and perform surgical procedures when necessary. Dr. Barkley uses advanced technology such as an operating microscope and digital imaging, to help perform these special services.
I’m worried about x-rays. Should I be?
No. While x-rays will be necessary during your endodontics treatment, we use an advanced non-film computerized system, called digital radiography that produces radiation levels up to 90 percent lower than those of already low dose conventional dental x-ray machinery. An x-ray that we use to visual your tooth’s root exposes you to less radiation than a single day of sunlight.
What about infection?
Again, there’s no need for concern. We adhere to the most rigorous standards of infection control advocated by OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association. We utilize autoclave sterilization and barrier techniques to eliminate any risk of infection.
Will I feel discomfort during or after the procedure?
The goal of endodontics is to relieve discomfort caused by pulpal inflammation or infection. With modern anesthetic techniques, the majority of our patients report that they are comfortable during the procedure. For the first few days after treatment, your tooth may be sensitive or sore, especially if there was discomfort or infection before the procedure. In the majority of cases, over-the-counter pain medications are used for this discomfort, but Dr. Barkley may prescribe additional medications for you.
How long will my tooth last after endodontic treatment?
Although the pulp is removed, your tooth can survive because it continues to be nourished by the surrounding tissue. With regular brushing and flossing, proper diet and periodic dental checkups, your tooth should last a lifetime. While there is no guarantee, the success rate of endodontic procedures is very high. Most teeth are savable; however, if Dr. Barkley believes that your tooth has a poor prognosis, he will inform you of this at the time of the consultation. Occasionally, a treated tooth may need an additional surgical procedure or have to be removed.
My doctor gave me antibiotics and now my tooth feels better. Do I still require treatment?
Antibiotics only buy time for a tooth left untreated. Even if the symptoms disappear with an antibiotic, they will eventually return until the source of the infection is removed with root canal therapy. If multiple rounds of antibiotics are prescribes overtime, future antibiotic resistant infections can become a concern.
What if I choose not to treat my tooth?
The inflamed pulp tissue inside the tooth will eventually break down and die. Once this happens, bacteria have access to the jaw bone and to your blood system. This leads to bone destruction, swelling or drainage from the gum. Once enough bone is destroyed, the only treatment option would be to remove your tooth (see alternatives to endodontic treatment). An untreated infection has the potential to cause facial swelling, which can lead to life threatening situations of obstructed airway or brain abscess. Untreated chronic jaw infections have also been linked to systemic health problems such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
What are the alternatives to endodontic treatment?
Often the only other alternative is removal of the tooth. The extracted tooth must then be replaced with an implant, bridge or removable partial denture to restore chewing function and to prevent adjacent teeth from shifting. Because these options require extensive surgery or dental procedures on adjacent healthy teeth, they can be far more costly and time consuming than the endodontic procedure and restoration of the natural tooth. No matter how effective tooth replacements are, nothing is as good as your own natural tooth. You've probably already made an investment in saving your tooth. The payoff for choosing endodontic treatment could be a healthy, functioning natural tooth for many years to come.