When we think of teeth, we most often picture the hard, pearly-white parts that brighten up the smile. But there’s much more to our teeth than what’s visible on the surface. Deep inside of each one lies a network of tiny, cavern-like passages called canals, which contain sensitive living tissue, including blood vessels and nerves. Treating the soft tissue inside the tooth, also called the pulp, is the primary concern of endodontists (“endo” = inside, “odont” = tooth).
In our everyday experience, we’re not usually aware of these minute canals, which extend from below the chewing surfaces through the roots of the teeth. But when something goes wrong with them, chances are we will know about it right away: Inflammation and pain in the tooth’s pulp can be quite severe. Getting relief from the pain and controlling an infection in the pulp tissue may require root canal therapy, or another treatment of the tooth’s soft tissue. These procedures, along with many others, are frequently performed by endodontists.
When You Should See an Endodontist
Although general dentists perform a large number of root canals, patients are often referred to an endodontist by their family dentist. This is sometimes done if you are experiencing confusing or non-specific tooth pain, or if a complication (such as a difference in your anatomy or a prior root canal) might potentially make your treatment more difficult. Or, you may be referred to an endodontist for a root canal before your dentist places a crown or another type of restoration on one of your teeth.
If you have an ordinary toothache or tooth sensitivity, you are probably best off starting with your family dentist; your problem could be simply tooth decay or a loose filling, which can be conveniently treated by a general dentist. However, if you have a knocked-out tooth, a fractured tooth, or other serious dental injury, or are in pain from a pulp inflammation, you don’t need a referral to see an endodontist. These dedicated professionals are expert at treating problems deep inside the teeth—and they can often save teeth that would otherwise be lost to injury or decay.