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How Does a Root Canal Become Infected?

Root canal treatment involves a dentist removing the nerves and pulp from the internal structure of a tooth, before cleaning and sealing the tooth to prevent further problems. Root canals are typically used when the tooth’s nerve and pulp become damaged or infected, which can lead to severe pain.

The nerves within a tooth are housed in tiny channels – root canals – and there can be many of these channels within the tooth. Advanced tooth decay, which leads to cavities, can expose the channels to bacteria which attack the nerves and pulp, causing damage to these delicate tissues. As the bacteria multiply, the nerves and pulp begin to die and the bacteria can spread to the surrounding tissue, leading in turn to a painful abscess. [pullquote]Root canal treatments can often save a tooth that might otherwise have required extraction…[/pullquote]

The tooth’s nerves and pulp can also be damaged through repeated dental procedures on the tooth, such as repeated fillings, or if the tooth itself is cracked or chipped; once damaged, the nerves and pulp begins to die, creating bacteria that attacks the structure of the tooth and surrounding tissue. Cracked, loose or lost fillings can also present an opportunity for bacteria to enter the structure of the tooth and begin to attack the nerves.

To treat the problem, a dentist will often perform root canal treatment. This is done under a local anesthetic, and the dentist drills into the tooth to create an opening from which they can extract the damaged nerves and pulp. Once removed, the dentist cleans the interior of the tooth with an antiseptic before filling the root canals of the tooth with sealant and a rubberized substance called gutta percha.

The tooth is then filled to prevent re-entry by bacteria, and in some cases a dental crown may be used if the filling required is large, or if the tooth structure is deemed to have weakened sufficiently following the treatment to represent a breakage risk.

Root canal treatments can often save a tooth that might otherwise have required extraction; even without the tooth’s nerves and pulp, the tooth continues to live as nutrients and blood flow can still be derived from the surrounding tissues of the gum.