Many dental patients know that root canals can save natural teeth but may wonder what actually happens inside the tooth with the procedure. Of course, there are many benefits to retaining your natural teeth whenever possible. The root canal treatment procedure replaces the living nerve pulp of your tooth with an inert biocompatible material, usually gutta-percha. Here’s a quick look at how root canals impact your natural tooth and allow them to remain a part of your smile.
How A Root Canal Affects Your Tooth
- The root or nerve pulp. This is the part of a tooth’s anatomy most impacted by a root canal. Typically, a root canal is called for if the tooth nerve has died or if the pulp is badly infected. During a root canal, the nerve pulp is removed with special tools and the canals themselves are flushed with material to treat the infection, so it does not return.
- The dentin. This layer of calcified tissue supports the top layer of enamel in a natural tooth. Dentin is produced by nerve pulp, so once the pulp is replaced with gutta-percha, dentin will no longer be produced in that tooth, which may make your teeth more brittle.
- The enamel. This hard outer layer of your natural tooth protects the internal parts of your tooth. It can be compromised by tooth decay or dental injuries (cracked or broken teeth), allowing bacteria to invade your nerve pulp chamber. A root canal stops this process, because not only does it remove the infected nerve pulp, the finishing restoration – a crown – fits like a “cap” over the tooth enamel, protecting it from additional damage or bacterial intrusion.
- The periodontal ligament. Sometimes a tooth is damaged because it is pushed out of position, threatening the periodontal ligament, which attaches our natural tooth to the jaw. In this case, a root canal can prevent further damage to the tooth, allowing it to be splinted in place to encourage the periodontal ligament to reattach and preventing infection issues inside the tooth.
While root canals do not “kill” natural teeth, removing and replacing the nerve pulp makes the tooth more brittle. Your endodontist will determine if you need additional restorations beyond a crown to ensure your tooth has sufficient support to function normally.
“Root canals do change how your natural teeth function, but they allow the other structures that are part of your teeth and gums to return to health, supporting your overall oral wellbeing,” says Dr. Susan L. Wood, who practices with the Phoenix Endodontic Group. “Our practice is always happy to explain precisely how endodontic treatment can help preserve your natural teeth.”