For many of us, the simple phrase “root canal” has become shorthand for pain and the mere idea of the procedure can be cause for fear and apprehension. But, root canals get a bad rap and are not as bad as they are often made out to be. In fact, once a tooth has reached the point where the nerve is severely damaged, a root canal is the only way to save the tooth.
What is a Root Canal
It helps to understand a little bit more about the way teeth are set up and about the procedure itself. The root canal treatment is named for the “canal” space in the roots, which holds the tooth’s nerves. Root canal treatments are used to repair damage or infection to those nerves or to the pulp (the soft tissue at the center of the tooth). When a tooth becomes badly damaged or infected, the pulp and nerves may need to be removed through a root canal procedure.
The Root Canal Procedure
Because your dentist is dealing with the sensitive inside area of the tooth, the procedure can be more involved than some others, which is a likely reason for the root canal’s bad rap. However, many root canal treatments can be completed in just one or two visits, and the procedure is generally far less scary than patients fear.
It begins with an x-ray so that the dentist can get a good look at the root area of the tooth and check for damage to the bone. When it’s time for the procedure itself, your dentist will isolate the tooth with a small latex strip known as a dam. He’ll then drill a hole, called an access cavity, in the tooth (and at the same time remove any decay or damage to the outside of the tooth). This access cavity will allow him to remove the pulp tissue, bacteria and any damaged nerves in the roots. Special tools called root canal files are used to take care of the removal and clean up procedure. These tiny, rough-surfaced files allow your dentist to clean out the canal and shape the space to be filled in. Your dentist will flush out any debris with water or an antiseptic solution.
After the root canal is cleaned, and damaged tissue removed, the area will need to be filled and sealed. In some cases, the tooth may be sealed directly after cleaning, or your dentist may wish to wait up to a week to allow the tooth to dry (using a temporary filling to keep out bacteria in the meantime). When the tooth is ready to be sealed, your dentist will fill and seal the canal, often using a rubber compound called gutta percha (a natural plant-based product) along with a sealant. Your dentist will then replace the damaged area with a crown or filling to make sure that you’re able to use the tooth comfortably. Depending on the extent of damage and whether your dentist wants to wait between cleaning and sealing, the procedure may be wrapped up in one appointment or spread out over two or more.
You may not walk into your dentist’s office knowing that you’ll need a root canal procedure. Some of the warning signs of root canal problems are pain (which may linger or fade in and out), sensitivity to hot or cold, swelling, throbbing and painful biting or chewing. While these symptoms are not exclusive to nerve or tissue damage, your dentist has a range of tests that can help him determine whether root canal treatment will be necessary.
After a Root Canal
If your dentist decides you need a root canal treatment, don’t panic. Despite popular conceptions (or misconceptions) most patients find that the root canal treatment is far better than the pain of a dental infection. There may be temporary sensitivity and mild pain just after the procedure, but this can usually be handled with over the counter pain relievers. Patients should also remember to chew carefully after the procedure takes place.
With a little knowledge and an experienced dentist, the idea of a root canal treatment can be far less scary. As with most dental procedures, early treatment usually means an easier fix, so don’t let worry or apprehension keep you from making an appointment with your dentist right away when you notice something wrong. Root canal treatments have a high rate of success and, when followed up with good practices at home, the repair can often last a lifetime and keep you using your teeth comfortably for years to come. If you are noticing that something feels wrong with your teeth, call Greenhill Family Dental Care today to book your appointment.