Cracks or fractures to teeth can be caused by trauma, biting on hard objects, and bruxism (grinding and clenching teeth). Cracks are increasingly common, because advances in home care, fluoridation and dental treatments are allowing people to retain their natural teeth longer than ever before.
The symptoms of a cracked tooth can be confusing and may include pain when eating, sensitivity to hot and cold foods, and tooth pain with difficulty pinpointing the location. When the crack occurs there may be debilitating pain. Pressure on the tooth will widen the crack, exposing the nerve and causing pain or irritation. But when pressure is absent, the crack may partially fuse back together, and the pain may subside. Eventually, the pulp inside the tooth may become inflamed or infected, and pain will be constant.
If a tooth crack causes damage to the inner parts of the tooth, endodontic (root canal) treatment may allow the tooth to be saved. The damaged pulp or nerves will be removed, and the resulting space will be filled, then sealed and protected by a restoration (crown).
In some cases, the crack may damage the structure of the tooth so that a root canal cannot be successful. If so, the tooth must be extracted to prevent pain and dangerous complications. An implant or bridge may be necessary to fill the gap left by the missing tooth.
Root canal treatment, also known as endodontic treatment, is the process of removing infected, injured or dead pulp from your tooth. The space inside the hard layers of each tooth is called the root canal system. This system is filled with soft dental pulp made up of nerves and blood vessels that help your tooth grow and develop.
Root canal treatment is needed for two main reasons. The first is infection. An untreated cavity is a common cause of pulp infection. The decay erodes the enamel and dentin of the tooth until it reaches a root canal. This allows bacteria to infect the pulp. Antibiotics can’t get to infections inside teeth. The inflammation caused by the infection reduces the blood supply to the tooth. The reduced blood supply also keeps the pulp from healing.
The second reason for a root canal is damage to the pulp that can’t be fixed. Trauma or a fractured tooth can damage the pulp. So can a lot of restoration, such as several fillings placed in the same tooth over a period of time. Sometimes, common dental procedures, such as preparing a tooth for a crown, can hurt the pulp. Then the tooth might need a root canal.
When the pulp is inflamed but not infected, it may heal on its own. Your dentist may want see if this will happen before doing root canal treatment. If the pulp remains inflamed, it can be painful and may lead to infection.
An infection in the pulp can affect the bone around the tooth. This can cause an abscess to form. The goal of root canal treatment is to save the tooth by removing the infected or damaged pulp, treating any infection, and filling the empty root canals with a material called gutta percha.
If root canal treatment is not done, an infected tooth may have to be extracted. It is better to keep your natural teeth if you can. If a tooth is missing, neighboring teeth can drift out of line. They also can be overstressed from chewing. Keeping your natural teeth also helps you to avoid other treatments, such as implants or bridges. Also, if you ignore an infected or injured tooth the infection can spread to other parts of your body.
Having root canal treatment on a tooth does not mean that the tooth will need to be pulled out in a few years. Once a tooth is treated, it almost always will last the rest of your life.
In rare cases, root canal therapy fails to work as expected. The treated tooth might not heal properly or a patient might experience post-surgical complications that jeopardize the tooth. Root canal retreatment involves the removal of the previous crown and packing material, the cleansing of the root canals, and the re-packing and re-crowning of the tooth. In short, root canal retreatment is almost identical to the original procedure, aside from the structural removal. The success rate for a root canal retreatment runs at around 75%.
Root canal treatments and retreatments are a better alternative than extraction for most individuals. If a tooth has good bone support, a solid surface and healthy gums beneath it, it stands a good chance of being saved. Opting for root canal retreatment can be far less expensive than the alternatives. Dental implants, extensive bridgework and the creation of aesthetically pleasing prosthetic teeth cost far more than working with the natural tooth. They also require maintenance and feel less natural than a “real” tooth.
Though the prospect of more endodontic surgery might not be pleasant, root canal retreatment is fairly simple. In general, the whole treatment can be completed in 1-3 visits.
There are a number of reasons why root canal therapy unexpectedly fails, including:
On the day of the retreatment procedure a local anesthetic will be administered, unless another type of anesthetic has been selected. The affected tooth is isolated with a rubber dam. The dam protects the tooth during treatment from bacteria and saliva. The amount the dentist can do within a single appointment will much depend on the amount of inflammation present, and the complexity of the treatment.
The first step in a root canal retreatment is to gain access to the inner tooth. If a crown and post have been placed, these will be removed.
Next, filling material and obstructions that block the root canals will be removed. This removal is conducted using an ultrasonic handpiece. The advantage of using this tool is that any unwanted material is vibrated loose. Tiny instruments will then be used to clean and reshape the root canals. X-rays may be taken to ensure that the roots are thoroughly clean. If this part of the treatment proves to be complex, medicated packing material will be applied, and the rest of the cleansing procedure will be done at the next visit.
When the dentist is confident that the root canals are completely clean, gutta-percha is used to pack the space. This rubbery material seals the canals to prevent bacterial invasion. Finally, a temporary crown or filling is applied to tooth. At a later date, the color-matched permanent crown will be placed.
If you have any questions or concerns about root canal retreatment, please contact us.