Brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups are a part of everyone’s oral hygiene routine. But sometimes, certain conditions require taking a step further for a special dental procedure, including a root canal. If your teeth have a deep infection, you might need this treatment to avoid losing them.
But what exactly is a root canal? Is it painful? How is the procedure done?
Understanding What a Root Canal Is
What Does ‘Root Canal’ Mean?
The term “root canal” or “endodontic treatment” is used to identify the small hollow that houses soft tissues within the natural tooth that extends from the tip of the root to the center of the crown – the part of the tooth visible above the gum line. Typically, each tooth has one to four root canals.
What Is a Root Canal Treatment?
Endodontic therapy, or root canal therapy, is a procedure to save a severely injured, cracked, decayed, or diseased tooth when its dental pulp (consisting of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue) becomes inflamed or infected due to deep decay. If left untreated, the tooth’s underlying structure can be damaged, leading to abscess formation – a painful infection that may require more than just regular dental attention.
When Do You Need Root Canal Therapy?
Recognizing signs suggesting you need a root canal or endodontic therapy is essential. This is, after all, a critical part of keeping your mouth and teeth healthy.
Root canal symptoms include:
- Severe toothache while eating or applying pressure on the tooth.
- Persistent and unusual sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures even after removing the stimuli.
- Darkening or discoloration of the tooth.
- Cracked tooth from injury or genetics.
- A deep cavity or issues from the previous filling.
- A defective or inadequate dental restoration.
- Swelling and tenderness in nearby gums.
- Formation of a pimple-like abscess on the gums.
There are instances, though, when no symptoms are present. Regular dental visits can help detect these issues, which is another reason to prioritize those appointments.
Root Canal Procedure
The thought of having a common procedure like root canal therapy may give you anxiety. But knowing the process in detail can ease your worry, preparing you for what to expect. Typically completed in three to four stages over two to three office visits, a root canal treatment can save your tooth and eliminate the pain associated with severe infection or inflammation. A general dentist or a root canal specialist completes this procedure.
Here’s what you can expect during your treatment:
Step 1: Thorough Examination and X-Rays
Before proceeding with root canal treatment, your dentist or a dental specialist will take an X-ray to better look at your tooth and the surrounding bone. This helps them identify signs of infected tissue due to deep decay and plan the procedure effectively.
Step 2: Local Anesthesia Administration
The root canal procedure starts with numbing the area around the tooth. This is to ensure comfort during the treatment. Despite popular belief, a root canal is no more painful than a regular filling, thanks to local anesthesia.
Step 3: Creating an Access Hole
Your dentist will drill a small access hole into your tooth to reach the infected pulp. Fear not, given the local anesthesia administration, this should feel no different than a minor pressure or vibration.
Step 4: Removal of Infected/Inflamed Pulp
The dentist will carefully remove the infected or inflamed nerve tissue or pulp chamber using special dental tools. This is a crucial step to prevent infection to the jaw bone and save your teeth.
Step 5: Cleaning and Shaping the Root Canal
Once the pulp or pulp chamber is removed, the dentist will thoroughly clean each canal in the tooth. The root canal will then be shaped to prepare it for the filling material.
Step 6: Filling the Root Canal
Your root canal will be filled with a sealer paste and a rubber-like material known as gutta-percha. This material seals the canal and prevents bacteria from re-entering to avoid future infection.
Step 7: Adding a Temporary Filling Material
A temporary filling material or a sheet of rubber is placed on top until a crown is ready to be affixed to keep the area dry and saliva-free.
Step 8: Placement of Crown
The final step comes in your subsequent visit. The dentist will remove the temporary filling and check for any signs of infection. If everything looks good, a permanent filling, a crown, or a partial denture will be placed to restore the tooth to its normal function. You can also ask your dentist for a permanent crown.
How to Care for Your Teeth Right After Root Canal Treatment
With the procedure complete, appropriate aftercare is essential. Here are some tips:
- Good Oral Hygiene: Continue practicing good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing once a day. Use gentle strokes when brushing and be careful around the treated area. Regular use of an antiseptic mouthwash is also recommended1.
- Avoid Hard Foods: Try to avoid chewing hard foods or using the treated tooth for biting down until it has fully recovered.
- Be Mindful During Numbness: Your mouth might remain numb for a few hours after the procedure. During this time, avoid eating anything that requires heavy chewing to prevent accidentally biting your cheek or tongue.
- Don’t Change Your Oral Hygiene Routine: Even after a root canal, it’s important to maintain your regular oral hygiene routine.
What to Do to Prevent Going Through Root Canals
Prevention is always better than cure, and this couldn’t be more pertinent in the case of root canals. To avoid the progression to a state that requires a root canal treatment, here are some simple, day-to-day preventative measures to incorporate into your dental care routine:
- Maintain Oral Hygiene: Regular brushing and flossing are the backbone of root canal prevention. Clean your teeth at least twice daily and floss daily to remove plaque and bits of food.
- Regular Checkups: Regular dental checkups are key for early detection of any potential issues. Dentists can identify cavities’ early signs of an infected tooth and address them promptly, potentially eliminating the need for future root canal treatment. It is essential to treat an infected tooth to have a better chance of saving it.
- Protect Your Teeth: If you engage in sports or activities that might lead to a tooth injury, consider using a mouth guard. Physical trauma can lead to tooth root damage, resulting in the need for a root canal.
- Eat Healthy: Limit sugary foods and drinks as they facilitate tooth decay and other dental problems. Incorporate a balanced diet that supports good oral health.
- Avoid Clenching and Grinding: Continuous stress on your teeth can lead to cracks and damage, which may allow bacteria to infect the pulp. Consider wearing a nightguard while sleeping if you tend to grind or clench.
Remember, giving your teeth the appropriate care they need at the right time reduces your chances of ever needing a root canal.
Is Root Canal Really Painful?
Many people harbor the misconception that root canals are extremely painful procedures. Most discomfort people experience is usually before the therapy due to the infection or inflammation of the pulp. Modern dental practices and technologies, coupled with effective anesthesia, can help make the root canal procedure no more uncomfortable than having a regular dental filling.
In addition, post-treatment, over-the-counter painkillers can easily manage any minor discomfort or sensitivity. Thus, root canals are designed to alleviate pain, not cause it.
Schedule Your Initial Consultation Before Major Dental Issues Arise
Root canals are a common dental procedure with a high success rate and long-lasting results. As with all health matters, the key to this process lies in understanding the procedure and recognizing when it’s needed.
If you notice any signs or symptoms that might indicate a need for a root canal, don’t wait to seek professional help. Your oral health is crucial to your overall well-being. Remember, root canals are not to be feared with modern dental care. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.