Frequently Asked Questions

What is an endodontist?

What is a root canal?
What is re-treatment?
What is an apicoectomy or endodontic surgery?
What is the emergency treatment for saving a knocked out tooth?
Why is my dentist referring me to a specialist?
Myths about root canals.
My insurance pays for this right?

What is an “endodontist”?

An endodontist is a dentist with special training in diagnosing and treating problems associated with the inside of the tooth. They do only endodontic procedures in their practices because they are specialists. To become specialists, they complete dental school and an additional two or more years of advanced training in endodontics, one of the nine specialties recognized by the American Dental Association. They perform routine as well as difficult and very complex endodontic procedures, including retreatment of previous root canals that have not healed completely, as well as endodontic surgery. Endodontists are also experienced at finding the cause of oral and facial pain that has been difficult to diagnose.

What is a root canal?

a procedure used to save an abscessed tooth by removing the dental pulp (nerve) after the tooth is dead or has had the pulp exposed due to cavities or fractures. After the pulp is removed and any infection has been resolved, the hollow area left behind after the nerve is removed is filled in with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Before the days of root canals, most damaged teeth needed to be replaced.

What is Retreatment?

With proper care, most teeth that have had root canal (endodontic) treatment can last as long as other natural teeth. In some cases, however, a tooth that has received endodontic treatment fails to heal. Occasionally, the tooth becomes painful or diseased months or even years after successful treatment. If your tooth has not healed or has developed new problems, you have a second chance. Another procedure, endodontic retreatment, may be able to save your tooth.

As occasionally happens with any dental or medical procedure, a tooth may not heal as expected after initial treatment for a variety of reasons:
  • Narrow or curved canals were not treated during the initial procedure.
  • Complicated canal anatomy went undetected in the first procedure.
  • The placement of the crown or other restoration was delayed following the endodontic treatment.
  • The restoration did not prevent salivary contamination to the inside of the tooth.
  • In other cases, a new problem can jeopardize a tooth that was successfully treated. For example:
  • New decay can expose the root canal filling material to bacteria, causing a new infection in the tooth.
  • A loose, cracked or broken crown or filling can expose the tooth to new infection.
  • A tooth sustains a fracture.

What is an apicoectomy or endodontic surgery?

Removal of the very end of the root is called apicoectomy. In this procedure, the endodontist opens the gingival tissue near the tooth to examine the underlying bone and to remove any inflamed or infected tissue.

A small filling may be placed in the root to seal the end of the root canal, and a few stitches or sutures are placed in the gingiva to help the tissue heal properly.

Over a period of months, the bone heals around the end of the root.

What is the emergency treatment for saving a knocked out tooth?

More than 5 million teeth are knocked out every year. Both adults and children are at risk. With proper emergency action, a tooth that has been entirely knocked out of its socket often can be successfully replanted and last for years. Because of this, it is important to be prepared and know what to do if this happens to you or someone with you. The key is to act quickly, yet calmly, and follow these simple steps. When you click on each step in the diagram below, a description of the action necessary will appear in the bottom left-hand corner.

Why is my dentist referring me to a specialist?

All dentists, your dentist included, received training in endodontic (root canal) treatment during dental school along with learning all of the other dental procedures. Often they refer patients to a specialist because they believe it is in the patients best interest, due to the difficulty of the treatment, to have a specialist perform the treatment. Endodontist also graduated from dental school, and then completed at least two more years of advanced education in endodontics. They perform routine root canals, as well as more difficult treatment such as re-treatment, apicoectomies and treating traumatic injuries. Endodontic specialist often are consulted to try to find the cause of the pain and to determine if it is originating from a tooth, and if so, which tooth is the culprit.

Myths about root canals

Myth #1 - Root canal treatment is painful.

Myth #2—Root canal treatment causes illness.

Myth #3—A good alternative to root canal treatment is extraction (pulling the tooth).

 

Myth #1—Root canal treatment is painful.

Truth—Root canal treatment doesn't cause pain, it relieves it.

Most patients see their dentist or endodontist when they have a severe toothache. The toothache can be caused by damaged tissues in the tooth. Root canal treatment removes this damaged tissue from the tooth, thereby relieving the pain you feel. (For more about root canal procedures, see FAQs About Root Canal Treatment.)

The perception of root canals being painful began decades ago when root canal treatment was painful. But with the latest technologies and anesthetics, root canal treatment today is no more uncomfortable than having a filling placed. In fact, a recent survey showed that patients who have experienced root canal treatment are six times more likely to describe it as "painless" than patients who have not had root canal treatment.

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Myth #2—Root canal treatment causes illness.

Truth—Root canal treatment is a safe and effective procedure.

Research studies performed in the 1930s and 1940s and those conducted in later years showed no relationship between the presence of endodontically treated teeth and the presence of illness. Instead, researchers found that people with root canal fillings were no more likely to be ill than people without them.1,2

Over the past several years, however, a very small number of dentists and physicians have been claiming that teeth that have received root canal (endodontic) treatment contribute to the occurrence of illness and disease in the body. This claim is based on the outdated research performed by Dr. Weston Price from 1910-1930. His research stated that bacteria trapped in the teeth during root canal treatment can cause almost any type of disease, including arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease, and others.

The presence of bacteria in teeth and mouth has been an accepted fact for many years. But presence of bacteria does not constitute "infection" and is not necessarily a threat to a person's health.3 Bacteria are present in the mouth and teeth at all times, even in teeth that have never had a cavity or other trauma.

More recent attempts to copy the research of Dr. Price (and to check its accuracy) have been unsuccessful. Researchers now believe that the earlier findings may have been caused by poor sanitation and imprecise research techniques that were common in the early 1900s.1

These more recent studies support the truth we report today—that teeth that receive proper endodontic treatment do not cause illness.

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Myth #3—A good alternative to root canal treatment is extraction (pulling the tooth).

Truth—Saving your natural teeth, if possible, is the very best option.

Nothing can completely replace your natural tooth. An artificial tooth can sometimes cause you to avoid certain foods. Keeping your own teeth is important so that you can continue to enjoy the wide variety of foods necessary to maintain the proper nutrient balance in your diet.

Endodontic treatment, along with appropriate restoration, is a cost-effective way to treat teeth with damaged pulp and is usually less expensive than extraction and placement of a bridge or an implant.

Endodontic treatment also has a very high success rate. Many root canal treated teeth last a lifetime.

Placement of a bridge or an implant will require significanly more time in treatment and may result in further procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.

Millions of healthy endodontically treated teeth serve patients all over the world, years and years after treatment. Those healthy teeth are helping patients chew efficiently, maintain the natural appearance of their smiles and enhance their enjoyment of life. Through endodontic treatment, endodontists and dentists worldwide enable patients to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime.

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