Endodontists focus on endodontics or issues concerning the roots of the teeth. While general dentists can perform the procedures and treatments offered by specialists, endodontists have received additional training. They have decided to focus their practice on treating the inside of the teeth.
The American Association of Endodontists (AAE) sums up the profession neatly, stating that endodontists are the tooth-saving specialists of dentistry. According to the American Dental Association, endodontists specialize in both conventional root canals and more involved tooth-saving treatments, such as surgery involving the dental pulp. While the need for these treatments can make patients feel nervous or anxious, this group of specialists focuses on pain management techniques and procedures that allow them to save the tooth with as little pain as possible.
What does an endodontist do? Often, the goal in endodontics is to save the tooth. An endodontist clears the infection and decay to protect the interior of the tooth from further damage instead of simply pulling a diseased or damaged tooth. Here's an overview of the types of treatment an endodontist performs, and what to expect from certain procedures offered in an endodontist's office.
In a typical root canal treatment, an endodontist removes the pulp inside the tooth, cleans and shapes the root canal, seals the area with a dental material and finishes the treatment with a crown, according to the AAE.
A pulpotomy is a similar procedure, more commonly done on primary teeth, to remove the inflamed coronal pulp from the pulp chamber and seal the remaining tooth. While a root canal involves removing all the pulp from the chamber and surrounding root system, a pulpotomy is less extensive and doesn't include the pulp in the root area.
Retreatment may be needed when a patient experiences tooth trauma, such as a cracked or loose tooth, decay reaching the pulp or when smaller or curved canals are overlooked in an initial tooth treatment. You may also need one if the dental problem wasn't properly fixed the first time, reports the AAE.
The AAE explains that an endodontist will sometimes perform a microsurgical procedure called an apicoectomy to open up the gum tissue surrounding a tooth if an infection exists around the bony area of the tooth root. This procedure will remove the end of the tooth and place a filling to seal the tooth.
According to the American Association of Endodontists, less than 3 percent of dentists in the United States specialize in endodontics dentistry.
General dentists and endodontists are both trained to perform root canals. However, a practicing endodontist will, on average, do 25 or more root canals or other procedures related to a tooth infection per week. This schedule makes them efficient and flexible since they do not perform other routine dental procedures. Most dentists will refer a patient to an endodontist for treatment of an infected tooth, especially when extreme pain and swelling are present.
Additionally, because endodontists also specialize in pain management in this area, you'll likely see them if you have trouble undergoing local anesthesia. Endodontists also focus on root canal safety and employ cutting-edge tools for a comfortable, pain-free experience.
What is an endodontist required to study? Students looking to become endodontists must complete an undergraduate education, four years of dental school and two to three years of residency in endodontics. Per the American Dental Education Association, the average residency is about 26 months long. To become a board-certified endodontist, the specialists must also pass three rigorous exams in endodontics, says the AAE.
According to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, endodontics students study the biology of the tooth pulp and the causes behind pulp injury or disease. They also study diagnostics and learn how to treat the area. Students will perform hundreds of root canals and pulp treatments of all types while in residency for programs similar to the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Many residencies also require students to do research and publish their findings in a medical journal.
The AAE notes that between 60-82% of all dental emergencies are endodontic emergencies. Endodontists are typically one of the first dental professionals you would see in a dental trauma setting.
Ask your general dentist about an endodontist referral if you're experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Tooth pain, perhaps after a tooth injury
- Sensitivity to cold or hot food and drinks
- Swelling around your gums, teeth and face
- Tenderness, pus or discoloration in or around a tooth
Endodontists are great at saving teeth; however, occasionally, a tooth or teeth may have complications beyond their abilities. The good news is that these specialists possess the skills and advanced diagnostic tools to determine the best treatment for you. Additional treatment could mean a referral for an extraction and tooth replacement to restore your smile, but only after exploring all treatment options. Reaching out to one of these tooth savers is a wise option to help save your natural teeth and prevent further restorative work in the long run.