While a General Dentists sees to the majority of your dental needs, an Endodontist specializes in treating teeth where the dental pulp (inner tissue of a tooth) has become diseased.
Dental school graduates are considered General Dentists, and may choose to continue practicing General Dentistry. However, those that develop an interest in diagnosing and treating teeth with diseased pulp tissue are required to complete at least two years of postdoctoral education in Endodontics to become an Endodontist.
What does an Endodontist do?
There is more to a tooth than many people realize. The center of a tooth is made of a soft tissue called dental pulp – often called the nerve – and contains blood vessels, nerve tissue, connective tissue and tooth-regenerative cells.
Endodontists specialize in the treatment of dental pulp which has become diseased. Dental pulp can become diseased in many ways, such as:
- Damage to the tooth (such as a blow to the face)
- An incorrect occlusion (bite)
- Deep tooth decay (caries)
- Unintentionally abusive dental surgery
Damaged or diseased dental tissue almost always causes pain – usually in the form of toothache. An Endodontist treats a diseased tooth through performing root canal therapy. This involves making a hole in the top of the tooth (the crown) and removing the diseased or dead dental pulp.
Because the tooth may have weakened after removing the dental pulp, a ceramic, metallic, fiber or carbon post is often cemented into the tooth for extra support. The remaining space is then filled with a special filler material. If the access hole is small enough, it is closed off using a filling, but if the hole is too large for a filling then a crown is often used.
Teeth that have died from damaged or diseased dental pulp usually become much darker. If the tooth can be saved through root canal therapy, then the color of the tooth can be matched to the rest of the teeth using a variety of treatments, such as veneers.
How successful is root canal therapy?
The good news is over 95% of root canal therapies are successful. However, on occasion, some root canal-treated teeth can remain painful, which requires further treatment.
Sometimes, the end of the root (which is situated deep in the jawbone) of a root canal-treated tooth can become infected which requires further treatment known as an apicoectomy. This involves making an incision in the gum, removing the diseased tissue, and filling the root end.
If your General Dentist does not perform root canal therapy, or if your dental pulp issues are beyond their capabilities, they will usually refer you to an Endodontist who specializes in this area.