An endodontist is a type of specialist dentist. Like many healthcare terms, the word “endodontics” comes from Greek, and actually means “inside tooth”. Dentists who are endodontists specialize in the care of the inside of the tooth. Your family dentist may recommend that you go to an endodontist if the inside of your tooth becomes infected or injured.
First, a note on the anatomy of a tooth.
While the outside of your teeth is made of enamel, a glass-like material, the inside of your tooth is made of softer stuff. The layer under the enamel is called dentin and is more porous than enamel. Next is the pulp, which is what we call all the blood vessels and nerves that nourish your teeth and give them sensation. The pulp lives in a hollow space (or spaces) in the middle of the tooth called the root canal. The term root canal is often used synonymously to describe the treatments dentists use on the pulp of a tooth if it becomes inflamed or damaged.
Endodontists are dentists that get additional education.
All general and family dentists are qualified to diagnose and treat endodontic issues. Many root canals can be taken care of in your general dentist’s office, but sometimes due to the severity of your condition or other factors in your oral health, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist. These dentists undergo an additional two years of dental education, studying the latest advanced techniques in root canal treatment to help them provide the best possible result in complex cases.
Endodontists don’t just treat people with tooth decay.
A common cause for needing a root canal is tooth decay. When cavities get really bad they can get deep enough that they go through your enamel and dentin and expose the sensitive tissues of your tooth pulp to bacteria. In the warm enclosed space of the root canal, bad bacteria multiply and cause swelling in the soft tissues nearby, which the patient might identify as a toothache.
However, you may need a root canal even if you don’t have tooth decay if your teeth have suffered an impact. Say you were playing a sport and got hit in the face by accident. After some ice and inflammation reducing medications, the pain in your mouth diminishes or goes away. But a week later you notice one of your teeth is darker than the others. This may be a sign that the nerve tissue (pulp) inside that tooth’s root canal has been compromised. The the endodontist will need to perform root canal therapy in order to save the tooth. (By the way, endodontists are also experts at putting a tooth that has been knocked out completely back in its socket!)
If we’ve recommended that you see an endodontist, please know that it’s our way of ensuring that your smile gets the best care possible!