Root canal therapy is a dental procedure used to preserve a tooth which has been damaged resulting in exposure of the tooth root canal (the structure in the center of the tooth which provides access to blood and nervous supply to the tooth) to the outside. If a tooth is fractured, and the root canal is exposed, bacteria from the mouth can enter the canal and cause an infection and subsequent abscess. Teeth have one to 3 root canals depending on the structure and size of the tooth.

Radiograph of abscessed root of tooth

Example of a fractured tooth with root canal exposure

When performing a root canal procedure, our veterinarian goals are:

  • To remove the existing pulp and nerve so that the pet loses any pain sensation from the tooth.
  • To sterilize the inside of the tooth to prevent infection
  • To fill the the root canal inert substance which will seal the tip of the tooth root to prevent bacteria from entering or exiting the tooth.
  • To seal the access holes used to perform the root canal
  • To protect the tooth with a metal or porcelain crown.

Tooth with files in place used to clean and shape the canal for sealing

Affected tooth with access holes drilled

Tooth with files in place used to clean and shape the canal for sealing

The procedure is done under gas anesthesia and may take from 1.5 to 2 hours to perform. Once your pet is anesthetized, the following steps are taken:

  • Holes are drilled in the tooth to allow access to the root canals.
  • The nerve and the pulp are extracted from the canal using special instrumentation.
  • The canal is then cleaned and shaped with files to allow for proper sealing.
  • Diluted bleach is then used to sterilize the inside of the canal.
  • An inert material is then forced into the canal and packed into the tip to seal the tooth.
  • The access holes are then sealed using uv-light activated bonding agents.

In some cases, the procedure may be stopped here, however in most cases, the tooth is then prepared for a metallic crown, which will protect the tooth from cracking. To do this, the following steps are taken:

  • The tooth is contoured to provide a lip upon which the crown will sit.
  • An impression of the tooth is taken using standard dental impression materials.
  • The impression is sent to the lab where a perfectly fitting crown is created.
  • When the crown is returned to us, your pet is re-anesthetized and the crown is cemented in place.

Tooth after root canal therapy

Tooth with metallic crown applied