If you’re like many people, you absolutely dread the term “root canal.” You may have heard all kinds of rumors about what root canals are all about. According to common dental superstition, root canal therapy is particularly intense, invasive, or even painful. You may have even heard that it’s “the worst dental procedure you can have.”
We have good news for you: none of that is true. Like most dental procedures, root canal therapy is all about preventing something much worse. Modern root canal therapy is straight-forward, often painless, and much easier than you probably think it is. We think the reason why root canals have such a fearsome reputation is because they’re misunderstood. To counteract that misunderstanding, here’s everything you should know about contemporary root canal therapy. Here’s what root canal therapy is, how we do it, and why you shouldn’t fear it.
What is root canal therapy?
Root canal therapy is an endodontic procedure, which means it treats the inside of a tooth. The inside of a tooth contains a pulp chamber and root canals that are full of dental pulp. The pulp chamber is located beneath a hard layer called dentin in the middle of the tooth. The dental pulp is made up of nerves, blood vessels, connective tissue, and specialized cells that help your teeth develop. Root canals connect that pulp to the nerves and blood vessels in the jaw below the tip of the tooth root.
Sometimes, deep dental decay or a fracture of the tooth affects the pulp inside it. When that happens, the pulp becomes inflamed and can even become infected. An infection in the pulp can spread out further to affect the surrounding nerves, bone, and even other teeth. You can’t “cure” infected pulp by brushing or flossing. Even a filling won’t fix it. In other cases, the pulp becomes inflamed and sensitive and tries to swell, just like when you bump your shin and get a lump there. The problem is that the pulp is in a confined space inside the hard tooth and can’t swell up. Instead, the inflammation squeezes the pulp, causing permanent damage to it.
The only way to reliably treat pulp infection and permanent pulp damage due to inflammation is by doing root canal therapy. Root canal therapy treats the affected tooth by removing its pulp entirely and filling the space with a rubbery filling material.
How does root canal therapy work?
Root canal therapy is usually performed in just one visit, but sometimes can require more than that. After the root canal therapy is completed, other dental procedures will be required to help restore the tooth’s function. Once the need for root canal therapy has been diagnosed, this is how the procedure works, step-by-step:
1. The dentist examines an x-ray of the tooth to determine the length and shape of the canals.
2. The dentist uses a local anesthetic to numb the affected tooth.
3. After the tooth is anesthetized, the dentist places a rubber sheet or “dental dam” around the tooth. The dental dam keeps the bacteria in your mouth from getting inside the tooth, and also protects your mouth from the things the dentist uses to perform the root canal therapy.
4. Using a dental drill, the dentist makes a small opening into the tooth. This opening allows the dentist to access the pulp chamber.
5. The dentist then uses long, thin instruments, including “endodontic files” to remove the pulp and shape the walls of the root canals inside the tooth. The dentist inserts the files directly through the pulp chamber and into the root canals via the opening we created with the drill.
After using the files, the dentist will uses a bleach solution to flush out the filing debris. This bleach kill bacterias and disinfect the root canals. We may sometimes use other cleaning or disinfecting agents, too.
6. The dentist fills and reseals the now-hollow root canals and pulp chamber with a soft, rubbery material called gutta percha.
7. Unfortunately, during root canal therapy your dentist must create a hole in the middle of the tooth to access to the pulp chamber. To fix that, we recommend a buildup and crown restoration after root canal therapy. The buildup fills the hole in the middle where the access was made, and the crown protects the exterior of the tooth and the root canal treatment inside. It will also help restore the shape and original functionality of the tooth.
Some patients have discomfort for up to 3-4 days after root canal therapy, but this is a normal response to treatment and should go away on its own. Over-the-counter ibuprofen or other NSAIDs that have anti-inflammatory properties are all most patients need for pain relief. If you’re still feeling significant pain 5 or more days after root canal therapy, contact your dentist immediately.
Why is root canal therapy so important?
When a dental pulp becomes infected or permanently damaged, it will never heal on its own. If the infection spreads from the pulp in the canals down past the tips of the roots, it could create an abscess. An abscess is a pus-filled area that forms in the jaw beneath the tooth or in the gums. Abscesses aren’t just painful; they’re also very dangerous. An abscess could spread the infection in your tooth out to all kinds of different parts of your body. Root canal therapy prevents all of this before it happens by removing the source of the infection early. If your dentist recommends root canal therapy to you, listen to them! They’re looking out for you.
In some cases where the pulpal infection has already spread to the surrounding bone, even root canal therapy isn’t able to save the tooth. Instead, your dentist would need to removed and replaced with an artificial tooth.
Hopefully, learning about root canal therapy has helped make it a bit less scary for you. Like all dental procedures, root canal therapy was designed to be as painless and non-invasive as possible. If you need root canal therapy, don’t put it off! It could save you from a much more unpleasant procedure or problem in the future.
If you think you need root canal therapy, don’t hesitate to call ImmediaDent right away. Our dentists and staff will do their best to make sure your procedure goes smoothly.