What Does an Endodontist Do?
An endodontist is a particular type of dentist with specialized knowledge in the field of oral medicine. The term comes from two Greek words meaning "inside" and "tooth," meaning that the practice of endodontics pertains specifically to treating conditions occurring on the interior of the teeth rather than their hard, visible exteriors. A problem on the inside can result in the loss of a tooth, but endodontists often have the best chance of treating the problem and preventing tooth loss because of their superior technology, advanced training and specialized techniques that go far beyond what is typically found in a regular dentist's office.
Areas of concern for the endodontist
Inside every tooth lies the pulp, which contains soft tissue and sensitive structures such as nerves and blood vessels. The pulp exists inside a network of tiny, cavern-like passages inside the tooth that extend from the roots of the tooth up into the area beneath the chewing surface. These passages are called canals.
In the presence of poor oral hygiene and tooth decay, bacteria can travel into the channels and cause an infection of the pulp. Left untreated, an infection on the interior of the tooth can cause the pulp to die and result in tooth loss, but an endodontist can control the infection, remove any dead tissue and often preserve the tooth with a procedure called a root canal.
A root canal involves three basic steps:
- Removing the infected tissue through an artificially created hole in the tooth
- Using a biocompatible, sterile filler to replace the extracted pulp
- Refilling the hole and sealing the tooth against reinfection
Endodontists are not the only dentists who can perform root canals. However, these practitioners are the ones who perform the procedure most frequently, meaning that they are the most experienced at it. Endodontists also have a number of specialist tools at their disposal, such as microscopes and tiny precision dental instruments, that may be in short supply in a typical dentist's office.
Other treatments performed by an endodontist
Root canals may make up a great deal of an endodontic practice, but endodontists provide other treatments as well.
Whenever possible, the goal of endodontists and other dental professions is to save and preserve the natural teeth. When this is not possible, however, an endodontist can place one or more dental implants to replace lost teeth that look, feel and function almost identically to the real thing. A dental implant is a two-part procedure that involves first inserting a metal shaft into the bone and later placing a tooth-like prosthesis on top of it. A healing period of several months is required between the two procedures to allow the implant to become solidly embedded in the jaw.
Sometimes, particularly if the tooth has been missing for some time, the bone of the jaw is not strong enough to accommodate an implant. In this case, bone grafting is performed to strengthen the jaw and provide a solid foundation for the implant. It can take several months for the graft material to fuse with the bone.
Of all dental professionals, an endodontist often has the most success at saving teeth. Therefore, if a patient has one or more severely damaged teeth and does not want to lose them, endodontic treatment may be the best hope.
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