A deeply decayed tooth is in serious trouble, and something a regular filling may not fix. You may instead need a root canal, a common tooth-saving procedure performed by general dentists or, in more difficult cases, endodontists (specialists in interior tooth treatment).
Regardless of who performs it, though, the basics are the same: The dentist accesses the tooth's decayed interior by drilling a hole and removing diseased tissue from the pulp and root canals through it. They then fill the empty spaces with a rubber-like substance before sealing the tooth and later crowning it to prevent re-infection.
For most, a root canal gives a decayed tooth a new lease on life that can last for years, if not decades. Occasionally, though, a root canaled tooth may become reinfected from tooth decay. There are a number of possible reasons for this unfortunate outcome.
For one, the decay might not have been caught until it had advanced into root canal filling, resulting in contamination. Although root canal treatment may still be effective, the chances of success are much lower than for a decayed tooth diagnosed before it had advanced this far.
Teeth with multiple roots or complex root canal networks are also difficult to treat. The challenge is to ensure all the root canals within the tooth have been thoroughly treated. These types of situations are usually best undertaken by an endodontist with microscopic equipment and advanced techniques that can better infiltrate intricate root canal networks.
These and other situations could make it more likely a root-canaled tooth is reinfected. Depending on the extent of damage, it may be best to extract the tooth and replace it with a dental implant or other restoration. But it's also possible to repeat the root canal—and the second time may be the charm.
As with many other dental conditions, the best outcome regarding a reinfected tooth after root canal is early detection and treatment. You can increase your chances of this with regular dental visits that include monitoring of any root-canaled teeth. You should also see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice pain or gum swelling associated with the tooth.
Root canals are highly effective at saving decayed teeth. But the rare reinfection is possible—so be on the alert.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”