If you’ve been diagnosed with an infected root canal system, it’s important that you don’t delay seeking treatment. But first you must decide who to see for a root canal: a dentist or an endodontist. While this decision should be made with the guidance of your dentist, the type of tooth that is infected and the shape of its roots can be important factors in making the choice. Before we look into that, however, let’s talk about the differences between endodontists and dentists.
What is an Endodontist? How Are They Different from Dentists?
You may be asking yourself, “What is an endodontist?” Like dentists, endodontists are graduates of dental school and begin their dental careers in general practice—but while all endodontists are dentists, less than three percent of dentists are endodontists.* Endodontists complete an additional two or more years of specialized training in diagnosing tooth pain and performing procedures relating to the interior of a tooth, prioritizing the perseveration of natural teeth to help patients avoid extraction. In fact, an endodontist’s primary objective is to save teeth, often limiting their practice to endodontic procedures and performing an average of 25 root canal treatments per week.*
Does this mean that only endodontists can perform root canals? Or can a dentist do a root canal? Many general dentists are skilled in performing root canals, yet most choose to refer out root canals at least occasionally.
“It’s really important for general dentists to be able to perform basic root canals, but they also need to set boundaries to know which type of root canal they want to complete versus what is better suited for a specialist.” – Dr. Sonia Chopra, GentleWave® Doctor
Why Would a Dentist Refer You to an Endodontist?
Root canal system anatomy can be quite complex, which can make ridding all of the infection from the tooth a challenge. If infected tissue or bacteria is left inside the tooth, or the tooth is left at risk of contamination from saliva, the tooth can become reinfected and require a root canal retreatment—or possibly even surgery.** This is why even dentists who routinely perform root canals should refer their patients to an endodontist in certain instances, such as the following:
- Traumatic dental injuries are present
- A retreatment is recommended
- Surgical treatment, such as an apicoectomy, is needed
- When the diagnosis is challenging
“If a case is really difficult or requires a different level of skill, a dentist will refer to an endodontist, who is a specialist of root canals.” – Dr. Sonia Chopra, GentleWave Doctor
Treating Challenging Root Canal Anatomy
A challenging root canal diagnosis is often due to complex root canal anatomy, which can make treatment considerably more difficult. For a root canal treatment to be successful, the dentist or endodontist must be able to find and clean the microscopic spaces within the tooth anatomy.
Molars and premolars can have canals that are difficult to detect, even with high-powered microscopes and imaging systems, or canals that are severely curved or obstructed.*** The methods used in conventional root canal treatment cannot always access this anatomy, as we’ll take a look at next.
What is Conventional Root Canal Treatment?
All dentists are trained in administering conventional root canal treatment, which entails using small hand files to remove infected pulp from inside the tooth.† While these files are somewhat flexible, they are not capable of bending to accommodate the cleaning of a c-shaped or other significantly curved canal, and the attempt to do so can result in the breaking off of the file inside the tooth.†† Instead, the dentist or endodontist must rely on irrigation with treatment fluids in hopes of reaching and disinfecting this unseen anatomy.
Alternately, endodontists are specifically trained in finding, diagnosing and treating the cause of tooth pain.††† Because it is their specialty, endodontists have a better understanding of the anatomy and how to effectively resolve pain and infection on the inside of teeth—and they are likelier to have the most up-to-date innovations to do so. Advances in technology have not only made it easier for endodontists to clean complex root canal anatomy, but now there’s a treatment option that also provides a better root canal experience for patients.
The GentleWave® Procedure
The GentleWave® Procedure is a less invasive1 alternative to conventional root canal treatment that cleans complex anatomy. By using a combination of fluid dynamics and broad-spectrum acoustic energy,1,2 the GentleWave Procedure creates a powerful vortex of fluids that can clear constricted canals and reach into the deepest, most complex portions of the root canal system1,2 to provide superior cleaning and disinfection.
The protocol for the GentleWave Procedure is also less painful for patients4 and keeps more natural tooth structure intact,4 leading to faster healing4 and promoting the long-term viability of the tooth.
“The GentleWave® Procedure cleans the canals so well, it offers a better chance for success.” – Dr. Marcus Palermo, GentleWave Doctor
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