Root canals are performed when an infection within the tooth begins to cause damage to the nerve. An access hole is made through the crown of the tooth to reach the canals in the root and the nerve is removed. The dentist attempts to remove all of the infection that is present. Once the infection has been removed, the dentist can then fill the canal to stabilize the tooth and seal it so that no debris or bacteria can work its way back inside the canal space. A cap/crown may be applied to the top of the tooth as an additional layer of protection against damage and decay.
There are times that an infection may reappear after a root canal treatment. Inside the root of the tooth, each nerve canal has small offshoots where bacteria can hide. Then, a second procedure may be needed to retreat the canals to eliminate as much of the residual infection as possible. The canal is again filled and tightly sealed against any bacteria or debris. The dentist may prescribe antibiotics both before and after the procedure to ensure the body is able to fight off any infection that may remain.
It can take a root canal procedure two to three weeks to sufficiently heal. The doctor may choose to place a temporary cap over the tooth for a few weeks to make sure that there are no symptoms present. Once the dentist is satisfied that the healing is complete, build up of the tooth structure is completed and the permanent crown is placed, sealing out any bacteria that may lead to infection. The mouth heals very quickly, but the risk of bacteria caused by eating and improper brushing techniques can dramatically slow down the process, and increase the risk of infection that can further damage the teeth. It is important to follow the doctor's post-op instructions during the entire healing process.