Endodontists — “endo” = inside, “odont” = tooth — are dental specialists who treat the soft tissue inside the tooth — i.e., the pulp. Inflammation and pain in the tooth’s pulp can be quite severe, and getting relief from the pain and controlling infection in the pulp tissue may require root canal therapy or another treatment of the tooth’s soft tissue. Endodontists frequently perform these procedures, along with many others.
Let’s dive deeper into endodontics and how an endodontist can help diagnose and treat your tooth pain.
What Does an Endodontist Do?
An endodontist most commonly performs root canals, which are needed when the tooth’s pulp is infected, often due to untreated tooth decay or a traumatic dental injury. A root canal involves:
- Making a small hole in the affected tooth
- Removing the infected or dead pulp tissue
- Replacing it with sterile, biocompatible filler
- Sealing the tooth against reinfection
Besides performing standard root canal treatments, endodontists often take on patients referred to them by general dentists, where complicating factors make treatment more difficult. They also perform endodontic surgical procedures such as apicoectomies, where infected tissue is removed from the tip of the tooth’s root. Additionally, endodontists are sometimes called on to perform endodontic retreatment — where a prior root canal has failed — or to treat pulp damage in cases of traumatic dental injury.
Understanding Tooth Pulp
Tooth pulp is the tooth’s innermost layer that comprises nerves, blood vessels, connective tissue, and specialized cells. The main functions of tooth pulp are to provide your tooth with nutrients and create dentin — the middle layer of a tooth that supports the enamel and protects the inner pulp. Additionally, the nerves in your pulp allow you to sense tooth damage and changes in pressure or temperature.
If your tooth gets damaged or you have tooth decay, the pulp can become exposed. This exposure can lead to pulpitis — an infected or inflamed tooth pulp. Pulpitis usually causes tooth pain, often leading to a severe health problem requiring immediate medical attention.
Endodontists Are Root Canal Specialists
Endodontics is one of the nine specialty areas in dentistry that are recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA). To become an endodontist, a candidate must first graduate from an accredited dental school, and then complete two to three years of postgraduate training in this specialty practice area. Endodontists must also be licensed in the state where they practice, and must remain current with continuing education requirements.
Endodontists aren’t the only dentists who can perform pulp treatments such as root canals. However, because their practice is focused on treating the soft tissues of the tooth, they do so more frequently than other dentists. According to the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine, these specialists perform an average of 25 root canal treatments per week. This high volume and specialized training gives endodontists a high level of expertise in performing a root canal.
When Should You Contact an Endodontist?
You might need to call an endodontist if you have the following:
- A knocked-out tooth
- A fractured tooth
- Inflammation near the gums or teeth
- Lingering tooth pain
- Unexplained pain in your jaw or mouth
- Hot or cold tooth sensitivity
- A fever accompanied by aches, chills, and/or fatigue
- Swelling or redness in your mouth that expands to your cheek
Finals Thoughts on Endodontics
If you’re planning to see an endodontist, you’re most likely going there to get a root canal. However, endodontists aren’t like regular dentists. Endodontists focus exclusively on treatments of the tooth pulp, meaning they have specialized expertise to help make your root canal procedure go as smoothly as possible. If you need help with root canal expenses, consider a dental savings plan.