Endodontists are dentists who specialize in tooth pain, disease, and infection. They have extra training that helps them diagnose and treat tooth pain and perform root canals, a special procedure designed to save an infected or decayed tooth.
What Does an Endodontist Do?
Endodontists treat problems involving the inside of the tooth, an area known as the “tooth pulp.” It has blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. It can get inflamed or infected because of deep tooth decay, traumatic injury to a tooth, and repeated dental work on a tooth. When that happens, an endodontist is the specialist to see.
The most common procedure endodontists perform is a root canal, a procedure in which they remove the tooth’s nerve and tooth pulp that has become damaged or infected. If left alone, the pulp will become inflamed and painful, and ultimately, the tooth will die.
Dentists, too, are able to perform root canals, but an endodontist has a lot more experience doing them.
Education and Training
Endodontists are dentists who have had two or three more years of training beyond dental school. They also study and receive a Master of Science in Dentistry. During their specialty training, endodontic students focus on diagnosing and treating tooth pain.
This process involves completing:
- Four years in dental school
- Two to three years in a post-graduate residency program
- An exam to become certified by the American Board of Endodontics (optional)
Reasons to See an Endodontist
Your general dentist may refer you to an endodontist for a few common reasons:
Tooth pain and sensitivity to heat and cold.
Bacterial infection. Bacteria can get into the pulp of a tooth through small openings created by tooth decay or injury. Inflammation or a bacterial infection of the pulp is the most common reason people see an endodontist.
Tooth injury. If your tooth gets dislodged from its socket or totally knocked out, an endodontist can place the tooth back in the socket, stabilize it, and then often perform a root canal on it.
Chipped or fractured tooth. You may need a root canal if a large section of a tooth is missing, exposing the pulp to bacteria.
What to Expect at the Endodontist
If you see an endodontist, you are most likely there to get a root canal. It can be helpful to know what to expect during your visit.
Before the root canal begins, you will be given a local anesthetic -- medicine to numb that part of your mouth so that you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. A dental dam will be placed around the tooth. The endodontist will open the crown (top) of the tooth and remove the pulp. They will then clean, reshape, and enlarge the root canal — the pathway from the pulp to your jawbone — using small files. They may also apply medicine to the area to stop an infection.
The endodontist fills the root canal with a rubber substance that acts as a bandage. Usually, they fill the tooth opening with a temporary or permanent filling. After the procedure, you will typically feel mild pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers should help. You will return to the general dentist within a few weeks to have them remove the temporary filling and fit you with a permanentcrown.