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What is root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is a procedure in which the canals in the roots of the teeth are cleaned and “sterilized”. The pulp in the canals is made up of an artery bringing in blood and nutrients to the tooth, a vein to return the blood to the lungs for oxygen and the nerve of the tooth. For our purposes, we will call it the nerve.

Root canal treatments are performed when the nerve of the tooth is infected by decay or by trauma. The byproducts of infection are pus and gas. The only pathway of escape for the pus and gas is through the root tip/s. This is where the pain comes in. The pressure of the pus and gas in the closed system of the bone causes the pain.

After the canals are sterilized, they are sealed with an old material, gutta percha. This material is very stable and doesn’t expand with heat or shrink with cold. Although the material has a long history, dentistry is using it in new and better ways.

Is the tooth now as good as new?

Not yet. The tooth is now non-vital, but functional. The next step is to fabricate a crown for the tooth within two weeks of the finish of the root canal treatment. The blood supply to the tooth has been cut off, which will cause the tooth to become dehydrated, get brittle, and break.

Another reason for the crown is that even though a tooth has had a root canal treatment, it can still decay. Too often we’ve seen patients have a root canal treatment performed, the pain has gone away and they ignore the tooth until it decays and/or breaks down to the gum line. The remainder of the tooth is extracted, and the effort, time, and money that has gone into saving the tooth is all for nothing.

Is root canal treatment painful?

No. With today’s anesthetics and techniques available, pain should not be an issue. If you feel anything like pain, let the dentist know and it can be taken care of. If the tooth is badly infected, the dentist may have to put you on a course of antibiotics before starting the treatment. Don’t believe what you hear about pain and root canal treatment. They get bad press. The day and night of the treatment, the patient will want to take it easy and stay away from aerobics class, etc. Aspirin or ibuprofen often will take care of any discomfort.

How long does the root canal treatment take?

The time depends on several factors. Teeth have one to four canals, the location of the tooth being treated, the size and curve of the canals, and how long it takes to get the patient numb. Some root canal treatments are done in one appointment, which could last an hour or less. Others will take two or sometimes more appointments to complete.

How long do they last?

If the treatment is properly done and the tooth is restored in a timely fashion, the tooth should be good for a long time. Decay or periodontal disease is the cause of failure more than the root canal treatment itself.

How much does it cost?

It is impossible to say, but the patient should know before the treatment is started how much it is going to cost including the follow-up crown.

General dentists often do root canal treatments but the difficult-looking teeth are often referred to an endodontist, a specially trained dentist who only does root canal treatments. The endodontist will refer you back to your restorative dentist for the crown.

Which type of toothbrush should I use?

A small headed brush with soft bristles should be chosen as medium and hard brushes tend to cause damage to your gums, and a small head allows you to reach all areas in the mouth easily.

Is one toothpaste better than others?

No, but it is important that it contains flouride. Brands do not matter, as long as the taste is preferable to you.

How often should I floss?

You should floss once per day. This is important because flossing removes food and plaque between the teeth that a toothbrush can't clean. Flossing also helps to keep gums healthy and studies have shown it to help prevent a heart attack or stroke.

What's the difference between a "crown" and a "cap"?

There is no difference between a cap and a crown. Both refer to the same type of full-coverage tooth restoration. A crown is a restoration that covers, or "caps," a tooth that is severely broken down. The restoration material is made of gold, porcelain, composites, or even stainless steel.

What's the difference between a "bridge" and a "partial denture"?

Both bridges and partial dentures replace missing teeth. A partial denture is attached by clasps to the teeth and is easily removable, while a bridge is permanately attached to the teeth and is usually fixed in place.

What about "silver" fillings versus "white" fillings?

While there hasn't been a study to prove the mercury in amalgym to pose a health risk, mercury by itself can be very toxic. White fillings are preferable by dentist because they "bond" to the tooth structure and help strengthen the decayed tooth. White fillings are preferable by the public, because they are usually less sensitive to hot and cold and restore the natural appearance of the tooth.

Do I need to have a root canal just because I have to have a crown?

It is impossible to say, but the patient should know before the treatment is started how much it is going to cost including the follow-up crown.

What is the difference between DDS and DMD?

DMD is a Doctor of Dental Medicine. DDS is a Doctor of Dental Surgery. There is no difference between a DDS and a DMD degree. The education for a DDS degree is the same as a DMD degree.

How effective are over-the-counter teeth whitening products?

There are many over-the-counter teeth whitening products available these days. Most of these products contain peroxide which bleaches the tooth enamel. They usually contain a concentration of carbamide peroxide ranging between 10-22%. Although many teeth whitening products claim to whiten your teeth, the 10% carbamide peroxide gels that dentists provide you with take-home trays carry the ADA Seal. Please consult your dentist about the side effects of whitening treatment.

How does my diet during pregnancy affect my baby's teeth?

Your diet during the nine months of pregnancy affects the development of your baby and his/her teeth. Your baby's teeth will begin to develop during the secong trimester of your pregnancy. During this time it is important that your diet includes sufficient amounts of calcium, protein, phosphorous, and vitamins A, C, and D. Please consult your physician and dentist for further information about the recommended diet during your pregnancy.

How come my jaw clicks (pops), and what can I do about it?

The ADA reports that fifteen percent of Americans suffer from chronic facial pain that is known as Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). TMD involves conditions affecting the temporomandibular joint, jaw muscles and nerves on one or both sides of the head that result in jaw, face, and head and neck pain. The pain and discomfort caused by TMD disorders may be severe, can be either intermittent or constant, and may last for many years. According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), TMD symptoms may recur during stressful times. A professionally made device such as a night guard can be used to help and prevent TMD.

What do I do to stop grinding my teeth?

Grinding the teeth, also known as bruxism occurs during sleep. can have a negative impact on your oral health as well as your overall health. Teeth grinding can damage the teeth and jaw and cause headaches. Bruxism occurs with the person is sleeping, and therefore the person has minimal control over it. A professionally made device such as a night guard can be used to help prevent damage to the teeth.

Why are x-rays necessary and are they dangerous?

Dental X-rays are pictures of the teeth, bones, and soft tissues around them to help find problems with the teeth, mouth, and jaw. X-ray pictures can show cavities, hidden dental structures (such as wisdom teeth), and bone loss that cannot be seen during a visual examination. The dosage of X-ray radiation is typically small. Dental X-rays are safe for most patients, except pregnant women who are in their first trimester.

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DC Light Dental

1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
Suite 502

Washington, DC 20004

Phone: (202) 347-0100


National Light Dental

1145 19th Street NW
Suite 714

Washington, DC 20036

Phone: (202) 775-1414