A Closer Examination: What You Need to Know About Root Canal TreatmentBy Richard G. Bennett, Jr., DMD
Receiving the news that you need a root canal procedure is never pleasant. But the silver lining is that it is a vital and common dental procedure. And root canals provide real pain relief and will likely save you from losing a tooth – or worse.
What is a root canal?
A root canal treatment is an endodontic procedure – endodontic means “inside the tooth” – that removes infected pulp in a particular tooth or teeth. The root canal procedure is an effective, common, and safe response to an infected tooth, and it can prevent you from losing an infected tooth. Root canal treatment will also fill and seal the treated tooth or teeth and prevent reinfection, as well as preserve the root of the tooth so that it stays in place.
Root canals are a fairly common endodontic treatment. In fact, the American Association of Endodontists notes that dental healthcare professionals perform about 15 million root canal procedures each year.
What are the signs of needing a root canal?
Root canal treatment is required when bacteria invade and infect the pulp and root canal system inside a tooth – this can happen in several ways, including untreated cavities. The pulp is part of the root canal anatomy and is the soft, inner substance of your tooth. It contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue and is surrounded by the hard outer layers of dentin and enamel that are visible to the naked eye. If the pulp becomes infected but is left untreated, the infection could lead to loss of the tooth or worse. In fact, unchecked tooth infections can even lead to loss of tissue in the jaw, as well as stroke, sepsis, or heart attack.
Do not ignore a tooth infection! That said, it will be hard to ignore an infected tooth nerve, as it will most likely deliver substantial – if not excruciating – pain. Other root canal symptoms include:
- Swollen gums – The bacteria that infects your tooth can create an abscess (a pocket of pus) large enough that it leads to a swollen face or jaw.
- Dark discolored tooth – We don’t mean from drinking too much coffee. A tooth that is infected will likely stand out from others and be deeply discolored.
- Deep decay – A cavity that has been ignored for too long cannot be cured by any amount of topical dental care (brushing, flossing, etc.). Only a root canal can solve the problem.
- Prolonged sensitivity – If you have a tooth that hurts to the touch or is sensitive to heat or cold for days, weeks, or months, it could be that it requires a root canal.
Other things to look out for include chipped or cracked teeth, as these leave the pulp vulnerable to bacteria. Any combination of these symptoms may indicate that you need root canal therapy.
How is a root canal performed?
This endodontic treatment is invasive by its very nature and can take between 30-60 minutes to complete, so your dentist, endodontist, or other dental professional will take several steps to ensure your comfort before beginning.
During this endodontic treatment, a dental professional will remove the infected pulp and nerve in the root of the tooth, clean and shape the inside of the root canal, and then fill and seal the space left behind. They will also fit you for a crown to return the tooth to full function.
Step 1: Anesthetic
Because of the nature of root canal procedures, your dentist will apply anesthesia before root canal therapy can begin. The goal of every dentist is to keep the patient pain-free, so your care provider should give great care to this phase of treatment.
During root canal therapy, you will, at the very least, receive a local anesthetic to numb the infected tooth and surrounding gums. Depending on how you handle dental procedures, you may be given further anesthesia, such as nitrous oxide, oral sedatives or intravenous (IV) sedation.
At around the same time as you receive anesthesia, your dentist or endodontist will place a dental dam in your mouth and around the infected tooth. This isolates the tooth and keeps it dry during endodontic procedures.
Step 2: Removing the pulp
When you are numbed and guarded against pain, your dentist will begin this root canal treatment step by creating a small opening in the crown of the infected tooth. They will then remove the dental pulp – consisting of the infected nerves, blood vessels and tissues inside the tooth’s roots and canals.
Step 3: Antibiotics
When the root canal pulp is removed, your dentist will clean the inside of your tooth and root canals with antibiotics to disinfect the area. This treatment result is a chamber that will allow your tooth to function, keep you pain free, and remove all evidence of infection.
Step 4: Temporary filling
The empty canals are then filled with a flexible, plastic dental material called gutta-percha – which derives from the Malaysian percha tree.
After this, your dentist will seal the tooth with a temporary dental filling, which prevents bacteria from re-entering. However, you may require a crown in order to fully restore use of the tooth.
How long does it take to recover from a root canal?
Root canal recovery time is relatively fast. And you can expect to resume normal activity within days of the procedure.
The best news is that the pain that almost always accompanies an infected tooth will dissipate as soon as the procedure is completed. And root canals boast a success rate of up to 98%.
What should I expect after a root canal?
You should eat soft foods in the days after the root canal process, as treated teeth are initially more susceptible to chips and fractures. However, the treated tooth will remain strong and in place just like your other, natural teeth.
If you do have any sensitivity in the procedure area, you can easily control it with pain medications, and even the severe cases usually subside within 1-2 weeks.
NOTE: There are rare examples of root canal complications. Symptoms to be aware of include the same symptoms that caused the root canal in the first place, including:
- Swollen gums
- Pus or drainage
- Tooth discoloration
- Pimple or boil on the gums
- Sinus problems
If this happens, your dentist may decide to re-do the root canal. However, it may also mean that tooth extraction is your only alternative.
How do you know if you need a root canal?
Any sign or combination of pain, swelling, pus, discoloration, decay, or cracked/chipped tooth are your body’s way of telling you to call a dental professional. The only way to be absolutely certain that you need a root canal is by diagnosis from a dentist or endodontist. DO NOT ignore any of these symptoms, as the results could be very detrimental to your dental and overall health.
Call BGW Dental Group Today
Are you experiencing any symptoms similar to a root canal? If so, know that BGW is here to help.
The caring team at BGW will see you as soon as you need us, and we also offer emergency dental services in case you begin having symptoms after hours.
BGW also offers three different locations – in Braselton, Dahlonega, and Gainesville – so that we can make things more convenient for you. Our staff will fully evaluate your oral health via the most cutting-edge methods available and will get you back to full oral health as soon as possible. NOTE: Because of the time and work involved, root canals can be a more costly treatment. However, root canal cost is nothing compared to root canal safety. Therefore, it is important to have the procedure, no matter your situation.