Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Root Canal
Over one million root canals are performed annually in the UK.
If you’ve learned you’re about to be one of these patients, you may naturally feel nervous. Don’t root canals hurt? The good news is the procedure isn’t as scary as it’s been made out to be and is often no more uncomfortable than receiving a standard filling.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about root canals, and what you can expect whilst in the dentist’s chair.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is also known as endodontic treatment. It is a dental procedure that completely removes the pulp and root canal tissue along with any decay from a tooth to relieve pain and eliminate any infection.
It was developed so that dentists can save a natural tooth, as it helps patients avoid having a tooth extracted and replaced with a dental implant.
Reasons to Need a Root Canal
The most common reason dentists perform root canals is because decay has spread deep into the tooth’s pulp, the part of the tooth that contains the blood supply and nerves. When a cavity is allowed to reach the pulp it often results in a throbbing toothache and an abscess may form in the gums at the base of the roots.
If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know how awful the pain can be and you probably received a root canal to treat it.
A cavity isn’t the only reason a tooth may need a root canal, however. If a tooth has had repeated dental treatments done to it and a filling is now close to the pulp, a root canal may be done to help prevent pain. A chipped or cracked tooth may also require a root canal.
Sometimes a tooth “dies” when it is no longer receiving blood flow due to trauma such as an injury to it. Tooth trauma often happens to people who play sports and sustain an injury to the mouth. In these cases, a root canal may be recommended.
If an infected tooth is left untreated, the bacteria from the infection can enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body. This can create a dangerous situation resulting in serious illness or even death. That is why it is important to see a dentist if you’re experiencing any tooth pain, as the infection cannot heal itself.
Warning signs of a cavity and/or tooth infection include tooth sensitivity or pain when biting down, chewing, and eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages. It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a dentist right away if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
Does a Root Canal Hurt?
The biggest rumor about root canals is that they hurt. In reality, the treatment isn’t much different than receiving a routine filling. The reason most people are afraid their root canal will hurt is that they’re already in pain, but that pain will go away once the procedure is performed.
A dentist will examine your affected tooth and take an x-ray to decide if a root canal is needed. If the tooth looks particularly hard to treat due to its complicated root structure or if your dentist doesn’t perform root canals, you may be referred to an endodontist. An endodontist is a dentist with additional training that specializes in treating the inside of teeth including the roots.
Your dentist will make sure you’re completely comfortable before your root canal procedure by giving you a local anesthetic. If needed, nitrous oxide or another form of sedation may also be given. The dentist will numb the injection area so you shouldn’t feel more than a slight pinch when the needle is inserted.
Steps of a Root Canal
- After making sure the area is completely numb, your dentist or endodontist may place a dental dam in your mouth before beginning the root canal. A dental dam is a thin latex sheet that helps isolate the infected tooth from the rest of your mouth.
- The dentist will use drills and other tools to remove any decay from the tooth and open up the inside of it. The infected pulp will be removed, and your dentist will use small thin files to clean out the root canals of the tooth. All inner chambers of the tooth will be cleaned and possibly disinfected to ensure the infection is gone.
- Once all of the infection is removed and the tooth’s inside is clean, the dentist will fill it with a rubber-like filling material called gutta-percha. This material is heated so it melts and easily fills in the roots. A temporary filling may also be placed in the tooth.
- Because so much of its structure has been removed, the tooth is now more delicate and may require a permanent crown. You will return to the dentist in a few weeks to be fitted for a crown and to ensure the tooth has healed and all infection is gone.
Your tooth may still feel a little sore and sensitive for a few days after the treatment.
You will still need to take good care of the treated tooth after a root canal. That means practicing good oral hygiene such as brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day.
Be sure to visit your dentist every six months for a cleaning and exam to make sure the tooth, and all of your teeth, remain healthy and strong.
Preventing Root Canals
You can help prevent having to get a root canal by taking good care of your teeth. This includes avoiding sweet and/or sticky foods and brushing and flossing regularly. If you play a sport, wearing a mouth guard can help reduce the risk of injury to your teeth.
Visiting your dentist twice a year will also help ensure that any problems with your teeth are caught early on which helps prevent the need for costly and more extensive treatment.
Whether you think you may need a root canal, or you’re long overdue for a dental checkup, schedule an appointment with us so we can help keep your smile healthy and beautiful for life.