There are many dental procedures that freak people out. Fillings, wisdom teeth removal, even a simple cleaning can be enough to stress most people out. However, few dental procedures instill the level of trepidation that comes with a root canal treatment.
Despite the common perception of the process, most people don’t actually know what’s involved in the process and why it may be necessary. So, to provide you with a little background information (and hopefully allay your fears), let’s have a brief look into what’s involved in a root canal treatment.
What is a root canal?
Every tooth has a soft core known as dental pulp. This pulp contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue and fills the tooth from the crown to the tip of the tooth’s root. This pulp helps to grow the root of the tooth during development. However, a fully developed tooth can survive without the pulp as the tissues surrounding the tooth will continue to nourish it.
When a tooth is damaged, bacteria can attack this pulp, leading to infection and inflammation, which in turn can result in an abscessed tooth, pulp death, bone loss and the loss of the tooth itself. Pulp can become infected or inflamed due to deep decay, physical damage to the tooth, or trauma to the face.
A root canal procedure is performed to remove this infected pulp from a damaged or diseased tooth. The root canal procedure is designed to remove the infected or inflamed pulp that is causing the pain and discomfort, prevent reinfection and save a natural tooth.
The process initially involves dental X-rays to check the extent of the damage. Under local anesthetic, the decay is removed and a small opening is made through the crown of the tooth to gain access to the pulp chamber. Using small dental instruments, the infected or diseased pulp is removed.
After this, the chamber and root canals are flushed out, cleaned, dried and sometimes medicated to prevent reinfection. The empty chamber and canals are then permanently filled with a sealer paste and rubber compound. A dental filling is then added to the tooth to protect the root canals from saliva and other contaminants.
Finally, the exterior of the tooth is restored. This is usually done by placing a crown over the damaged tooth.
Does it hurt?
People tend to fear root canals not so much because of the pain associated with the procedure, but because the infection itself is so painful. The process itself isn’t much more painful than getting a standard filling. And if you go for full dental sedation, you will feel almost nothing of the procedure itself. The reality is that living with an infected tooth will be immensely more painful than the root canal procedure.
What are the benefits?
There are a few alternatives to root canal procedures including extracting the damaged tooth, and replacing the tooth with a dental implant, bridge or removable partial denture. However, where possible a root canal is preferable for a number of reasons:
- Retains your natural teeth
- Can prevent further dental procedures (like dental implants)
- Doesn’t require dental prosthetics like dentures
- Retains natural chewing motion, bite force and sensation
- Natural appearance
- Protects other teeth and jaw stability
How do you know if you need a root canal?
There are a number of signs that you may have an infected tooth that could require a root canal procedure. These include:
- Severe toothache
- Severe pain when chewing or applying pressure to the tooth
- Unusually sensitivity to or pain from hot or cold temperatures
- Discoloration (darkening) of the tooth
- Swelling and tenderness in nearby gums
- A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums
If you have any of these symptoms, please contact your dentist. They will be able to diagnose the problem and advise you whether a root canal is right for you.