Root Canal Treatment is one of modern dentistry’s most effective ways to prevent damaged or diseased teeth from being lost—it’s so effective, in fact, that this procedure is performed about 15 million times a year in the United States alone. But sometimes, months or years after a root canal, a treated tooth may become stained or discolored. Is there any way to restore that tooth to its natural brightness?
In many cases, the answer is yes: You can achieve teeth whitening through a method called internal (or non-vital) bleaching. To understand how this works, let’s closely examine various tooth whitening methods and how root canal treatment affects the tooth’s ability to whiten.
How Tooth Whitening Works
In most cases of tooth staining, such as those caused by smoking, drinking coffee or red wine, or general aging, the color change occurs on the outer surfaces of the teeth. Extrinsic staining describes this type of discoloration. Making lifestyle changes (here’s one more reason to stop smoking), using whitening toothpastes, and getting regular professional cleanings at the dental office can often help to mitigate this staining. However, if these measures are not enough, dentists can use special bleaching products to lighten the teeth. Whether patients undergo these treatments in the dental office or at home, they can expect the best and safest results under the supervision of a dentist.
Some stains, however, don’t arise from surface discolorations, but instead come from deep inside the tooth. These are called intrinsic stains, and they sometimes occur after root canal treatment. There are two major reasons this may happen. In some cases, when the tooth has lost its vitality due to trauma, it may bleed internally and gradually become darker due to pigments in the blood. Otherwise, the treatment process itself can eventually cause discoloration. In root canal treatment, dentists carefully clean out the living, infected pulp tissue deep inside the tooth, disinfect the area, and then seal up the tooth to save it. Sometimes, the cements used to seal the root canal treatment can cause the tooth’s structure to darken over time.
Tooth Whitening After A Root Canal
The good news is that it’s possible in many cases to alleviate the staining with whitening agents that work from the inside out. Dentists refer to this process as internal or non-vital bleaching. and they perform it at the same time as a root canal, or afterward. Here’s how it works:
If the dentist is treating the tooth at a later time, they will first conduct a complete examination, including X-rays, to assess its condition and determine the appropriateness of this treatment. Next, after numbing the area, the dentist will create a tiny hole on the backside of the tooth. This provides access to the pulp chamber, a tiny cavern-like space at the center of the tooth. The dentist will clear the pulp chamber of any debris and discolored material if necessary, and seal it to prevent any bleach from leaking. Next, they will deliver the bleaching agent to the pulp chamber and close the access hole. If needed, this treatment can be repeated.
In some situations, dentists may place the bleaching agent into the cleared pulp chamber during the initial root canal treatment, especially if the tooth already exhibits noticeable staining. In all other respects, the procedure is the same.
Internal bleaching is a relatively conservative way to brighten up a tooth with intrinsic staining. While the technique is effective in many cases, it may not work in every situation. Other options for restoring intrinsically stained teeth include dental veneers and crowns—but these require more extensive (and non-reversible) dental work, and are often more costly treatments. What’s the best way to find out whether internal bleaching might work for you? Ask your dentist: he or she can assess your individual circumstances and present the options that will work best.