The Greek meaning of endodontics (“endo” means inside, and “odont” means tooth) translates to “inside the tooth.” Endodontic problems may result in any situation where the inside of the tooth has been diseased or injured. When tooth decay goes untreated for too long, it can reach the pulp of the tooth. This is when it is a good idea to see your dentist, who may refer you to an endodontic specialist.
While general dentists are trained in basic endodontics, some cases need to be addressed by a specialist. While all endodontists are qualified dentists, these professionals have completed an extra year or two of training in this specialized field.
This training focuses on diagnosing dental pain as well as performing treatments that address the interior of the tooth. Because these treatments can often save decayed teeth, endodontists are seen as specialists in saving teeth. A typical endodontist performs upwards of twenty-five root canals per week, and they make sure to stay up to date on technology in their field to provide the best patient care.
Since everything happens below the surface when it comes to endodontics, you can’t see where your doctor will be working if you look at your teeth in the mirror. To fully understand what an endodontist does, you should first understand the anatomy of the tooth.
From the outside, you can see the hard layer of enamel. This is the white part that is cleaned and polished when you brush and floss your teeth. Just below the enamel is another hard layer called dentin.
Under the dentin is the tissue that contains blood vessels and nerves, which aid in growth and development. When this pulp becomes inflamed or infected, then endodontic treatment needs to be considered, especially if you want to avoid serious pain or tooth loss.
Root Canal Treatment: The main focus of endodontics is root canal treatment. The mention of the procedure tends to spark alarm because most people think it will be very painful. However, while the procedure description itself can seem a bit scary, it’s a very straightforward and safe treatment. Thanks to advancements in technique and technology, you shouldn’t feel anything when your dentist does the work.
A fully developed tooth can survive just fine without the pulp, but it does need to be rebuilt to maintain strength. The hollow canal is filled with a medicated material called gutta-percha and is topped with a dental crown to maintain its form and function.
Traumatic Dental Injuries: In some cases, root canal treatments can also help to restore structure without losing the entire tooth. If a tooth develops a crack, the pulp can be exposed to bacteria and cause pain when breathing through your mouth or drinking cold fluids. Root canal treatments aren’t even needed if the root is not damaged. If the cracks and chips are small and located above the root, it can be restored by using a tooth-colored filling or crown.
Apicoectomy: There is always the possibility that a nonsurgical root canal procedure won’t be enough to save your tooth. In these cases, your doctor will recommend surgery — a case that will require the attention of an endodontist.
An apicoectomy is performed when the infection persists even after standard root canal treatment. A root-end resection is done when the infection moves to the bony area around the tooth. This procedure is more involved than root canal treatment. The endodontist removes the infection through the gum near the root rather than going through the tooth. Sometimes the end of the root is also removed.
Your endodontist will then place a small filling to seal the root of the tooth where the piece was removed, then close it up. It will take a few months to heal completely, and there may be some discomfort, but most people can return to normal activity the following day.
Complex Surgeries: There are other surgeries an endodontist can perform to save your tooth. Sometimes removing a root is effective, and in very complex cases, an intentional re-plantation will be successful. With this procedure, the dentist will extract the tooth, treat it with an endodontic treatment outside of the mouth, then place it back in the socket.
An endodontist has more experience and training so that they can perform complicated procedures and surgery. They are also very skilled at diagnosing difficult cases of oral and facial pain. Narrow teeth and blocked or unusually positioned canals require advanced technology and experience to treat successfully.
No matter how advanced tooth replacement options become, it is always better to keep your natural tooth whenever possible. Each one of your teeth is uniquely designed for you and will help you maintain a healthy bite and youthful facial features.
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