You know we dentists like to use big words. An endodontist is the term for a root canal specialist. The word endodontist can be broken down into “endo-“, which means within, and “-dont”, which means tooth. An endodontist specializes in the inner chamber of the teeth.
Yes, the inner chamber of a tooth is a physically tiny area. Unfortunately, it is also extremely complex. A normal mouth contains thirty-two teeth. These thirty-two teeth have sixteen different configurations. Each tooth has its match on the opposite side of the mouth in a mirror image, but even these matching teeth are not perfectly identical.
Teeth are hollow, and the hollow chamber contains a living tissue called the pulp. The pulp is full of nerves and blood vessels, which is why you can feel certain things through your teeth. The long skinny chamber running down each tooth is called the pulp canal or root canal.
The term “root canal” is actually an anatomical description of this narrow tube holding the living tissue inside a tooth. We refer to the common dental procedure that treats this area as a “root canal treatment”.
The root canals, or pulp chambers, within the teeth have many different variations, which makes treating them rather complicated.
Add to this complicated architecture of the teeth the mix of bacteria that can infect this area, and you have a complex situation requiring specialized diagnosis and treatment.
An endodontist is a dentist who spends an extra two and a half years in school for a residency, during which they focus on this narrow realm of dentistry. Endodontists have extensive training in difficult root canal treatment procedures.
In addition to the difference in education, an endodontist also has a different office. Because an endodontist restricts his or her practice to only endodontic procedures, they have specialized equipment that most general dentists do not have.
Many teeth that need root canal treatments have an obvious diagnosis and an uncomplicated root system. General dentists are more than capable of treating this type of case with root canal treatments. There are also many cases of teeth with very complex root systems or inconclusive test results making diagnosis more difficult. When there is a question about the state of a nerve within a tooth, or if your dentist cannot definitively see all of the root canal system in his or her imaging, it is likely that he or she will refer you to see an endodontist.
Dentists also may refer you to see an endodontist in an uncomplicated case if they know that the endodontist could perform the root canal treatment more efficiently. A faster dental visit typically keeps you more comfortable.
Endodontists also perform dental procedures that relate to the health of the nerve inside a tooth or to an existing root canal treatment.
If a tooth is injured before the root has completely formed (for instance, in an adolescent child), it is essential to keep the nerve inside the tooth healthy and alive long enough for the root to finish growing. This is a relatively delicate procedure, requiring greater endodontic knowledge and skill.
Unfortunately, root canal treatments do not have a 100% success rate. When a root canal treatment fails, an endodontist can clean out the old treatment and perform a re-treatment. Another procedure to repair failed root canals is surgery around the tip of the root, called apicoectomy. This, and other surgical procedures, fall in the realm of endodontics.
Typically, endodontists do not perform procedures that extend beyond the internal surface of a tooth. They do perform fillings, both temporary and permanent, to fill in the tooth after the root canal is complete.
They do not perform dental crowns to cover the root canal or extractions of teeth that patients choose not to save with root canal treatments. Your endodontist works in close collaboration with your dentist to make sure you receive all of the treatment you need. Usually, this involves treatment by both the endodontist and the dentist.
Typically, treatment with an endodontist will include various options for sedation. You do not have to be sedated for an endodontic procedure. But you certainly can be if you’d like to. Many people suffer from dental anxiety, and a root canal treatment is probably at the top of their list of scary things. Your endodontist will strive to make you as comfortable as possible, whether you are “asleep” or wide awake.
Just like tooth extractions, some people choose to have only local anesthetic to numb the mouth, and others choose intravenous sedation and sleep through the procedure. The choice is yours!
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to find out more information about root canal treatments and the endodontic specialists we work with.