How a Cavity Turns into a Root Canal

A root canal is a dental procedure that becomes necessary when a tooth has decayed so much that the nerve tissue becomes infected.

What Causes Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is caused when the bacteria in our mouths, and the foods we eat, create acid that erodes the tooth. Two major factors that put your teeth at a higher risk of decay are eating sugary foods and smoking cigarettes.

A hole in the tooth caused by decay is called a cavity. When you have a cavity, you need to go to the dentist for a filling. If the tooth continues to decay and the hole gets deeper, you will need a root canal.

When Does a Cavity Turn into a Root Canal?

There are three layers of the tooth: enamel (the top layer), dentin (middle layer) and nerve tissue (deepest layer). If your tooth has decay to the enamel or dentin, a simple filling is enough to repair the cavity. However, if the cavity is left untreated, the decay will reach the deepest layer of the tooth, the nerve tissue. At this point, a root canal is necessary to repair the tooth.

What are the Signs that I Need a Root Canal?

If you have a cavity that has reached the nerve tissue, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Toothache when pressure (such as chewing) is applied to the tooth
  • Tooth sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Discoloration of the tooth
  • Swelling or tenderness of the gums

What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?

First, we use local anesthesia to numb the area near the tooth. Next, we remove the tooth’s decayed nerve tissue and any related damage. After cleaning out and washing the tooth, we place the dental filling. Because the procedure involves such sensitive tissue deep in the tooth, you may experience discomfort for a few days afterward.

How can I Make Sure my Cavity Doesn’t Turn into a Root Canal?

Root canal therapy is much more involved than a simple filling, and it’s also more costly. The best way to prevent the need for a root canal is to take good care of your teeth with regular brushing and flossing, attend dental check-ups regularly, and get cavities filled as soon as possible. Once the tooth has started decay, the problem will only get worse. The longer you wait to fill a cavity, the more likely it becomes that you will need a root canal to repair the damage to the tooth.