Root Canal Therapy: An Overview

Woman Concerned About Her Root Canal NeedsRoot canal therapy is usually recommended if a deep cavity or traumatic injury has exposed the innermost layer of the tooth, the pulp. Made up of soft tissue, blood vessels, and nerves, the pulp runs through the bottom of the tooth and serves as a lifeline for hydration and nutrients. If the pulp becomes infected, it can cause pain, swelling, and the loss of the tooth if a root canal is not performed. While general dentists and root canal specialists (endodontists) both perform root canals, how do you know who should oversee your treatment plan?

Standard Root Canal Therapy

All general dentists receive formal training in endodontics during dental school and many general dentists pursue continuing education in this field once they begin practicing. Some, however, pursue specialized post-graduate education in endodontics for three years before becoming board-certified endodontists.

If you need a root canal and your case is straightforward, your dentist will usually perform the procedure. However, in some cases, personal preference and concern for patient care may prompt your general dentist to refer all root canal therapies to a trusted endodontist within his referring circle. Ultimately, your general dentist will recommend the option that’s right for your individual case.

Complex Cases and Retreatment

Unless your dentist has received extensive continuing education in advanced endodontics, he will probably refer you to a specialist if your case is especially complex. Conditions that are almost always referred to an endodontists include:

Complex root canal systems

Ideally, the root chambers run in a straight line from the center of the tooth down through the end of the tooth but, often, the root chambers curve, twist, or branch off at horizontal angles. Complex roots are more difficult to clean and disinfect thoroughly.

Retreatment of a Failed Root Canal

A root canal therapy can fail months or even years after the original procedure was performed. The most common problems that lead to the need for root canal retreatment include a cracked, damaged, or leaking crown, new infection of the tooth, or hidden canal chambers that went untreated the first time around.