Understanding Root Canals and Endodontic Therapy
While most everyone understands what cavities are, and know how they are treated with fillings, people tend to know less about root canal infections and their related treatment. Of course, far more people have had a cavity filled than have had root canal therapy. While more than 170 million cavities are filled in the U.S. every year, dentists only perform about 15 million root canal procedures per year.
The difference between a cavity and a root canal infection is that a cavity is caused by decay of the hard, surface tissues (enamel and dentin) of the tooth, while the root canal infection is located deep in the tooth’s pulp chamber. That said, the primary cause of root canal infection is when the decay of a cavity allows bacteria into the pulp chamber. Other causes of root canal infection include:
- Trauma to the face
- Repeated dental procedures
- Chips, cracks and fractures
- Decay under crowns
In short, anything that allows bacteria to penetrate through the enamel and dentin can lead to infection of the nerve and pulp tissue. Once that infection has taken hold, it can be hard to eliminate. Also known as “endodontic therapy,” root canal therapy is generally the only treatment that completely eliminates the infection.
Repercussions of Root Canal Infection
As an untreated cavity can eventually destroy a tooth, an untreated root canal infection is more damaging. The infection can lead to decay of the dentin and enamel from within, which weakens the surface tissues and makes the tooth more prone to breakage. The infection can also cause bone loss around the roots and lead to the formation of an abscess at the ends of the tooth’s roots. These abscesses can cause severe pain, fever, swelling, bad breath, and lead to infections in other parts of your body. Researchers believe that such endodontic abscesses, along with those caused by periodontal disease, are responsible for hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits every year. Some cases are so serious that patients need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment, and, in a few cases, patients end up dying because of the infection.
Preventing Root Canal Infections
With tooth decay serving as the primary cause of root canal infection, proper daily oral hygiene and regularly scheduled dental appointments are key to prevention. In short:
- Carefully brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day
- Visit your dentist regularly as recommended
- Avoid food and drink that is high in sugar, starch and acids
- Avoid trauma
- Seek immediate repair of tooth chips and fractures, as well as with loose or broken crowns
To learn more about root canal infections and endodontic therapy, visit our Root Canal Therapy web page and or December 2016 blog, “The Why and How of Root Canal Therapy.”
The dental-care experts at Island Tower Dentistry have extensive experience diagnosing root canal infection. We have been helping people in the Marco Island, Florida area maintain their oral health for more than 25 years. To learn more about what the Island Tower team can do for you, contact us today at 239-394-1004 to make an appointment!