What’s left of my tooth after a root canal?

So you’ve had a root canal…do you really know what was done to your tooth? We’ve found many people think the root of the tooth is removed when they’ve had a root canal, which isn’t correct.  Dr. Shank explains:

Good morning, Dr. Shank Here.  It’s Monday morning before we get ready to start seeing our first couple of patients for the day, and I thought I’d take just a moment to address a common misconception that we hear from a lot of our patients.  About once a week, we have a comment from a patient indicating that ‘My tooth has had a root canal, so there’s no longer any root on the tooth, right?’  That’s not quite correct, so it’s brought up the idea that there’s a lot of people who don’t really understand what a root canal is, so I thought I’d take just a moment to help clarify that and show you what’s there and what’s not there on a tooth that’s had a root canal.  To show you this, I’m going to flip my camera around and show you a root canal that I did last week, and hopefully that will clear things up.

This is a tooth that’s had a root canal, and you can see right in the middle of the tooth there is this long white pointy thing. This is the canal in the tooth where the nerve and the blood vessel used to live.  You see, teeth are to some extent hollow the entire way down the tooth.  You can see the tooth just beside this one which has not had a root canal has this dark space that I’m going to follow with my mouse pointer goes all the way down the root up to the tip, and it gets pretty small toward the end of the root, but it is still there. There’s this hollow channel that goes up through the tooth, and that’s where the nerve and the blood vessel live.

The Root Canal Process

In the case of a tooth that’s had a root canal, for front teeth we make a small hole in the back of the tooth and we access that area where the nerve and the blood vessel live up in the top part of the tooth here in the crown.  Once we’re in there, we use some tiny skinny little instruments that work their way down through the root of the tooth and clean that area out. Then we fill that part of the tooth in with some specialized material that’s specifically made for filling in root canals.  Once that’s done, we come back up to the crown of the tooth and in the case of a front tooth like this, many times we can just fill in the hole that we used to access the root canal with some tooth-colored filling material. In the case of a back tooth, many times that tooth requires a crown because there is often times a lot more tooth structure missing, and because those back teeth tend to take heavier biting forces when chewing and functioning. Do notice though that the root of the tooth is still there.  The root is the area of gray material around the white root canal filling material.  Outside of that area is the bone that the tooth is hanging out in.

So to summarize, a tooth that has had a root canal does still have a root, it’s just the nerve and the blood vessel inside of the tooth that is missing. A root canal typically has to be done either because there is a large cavity that got into the nerve and infected the nerve, or in this case, the nerve in the tooth died because of trauma. The individual in this case took a hit to the mouth a number of years ago and the nerve in the tooth died because of that.

So there you have it.  If you have any questions, give us a call at (317) 350-1534 or look us up online at www.ShankDentistry.com. Thanks so much, and we’ll look forward to seeing you!