Getting a root canal: Your questions answered

Getting a root canal is an incredibly common and, thanks to modern technology, simple procedure.

Root canals have long had a fairly negative reputation in the world of dentistry, but if you've recently been told that you need the procedure done, there's absolutely no need to fret. Getting a root canal is a fairly simple procedure with minimal pain. Read on to learn why the procedure might need to be done, how it works and what you can expect.

What is a root canal?

Right off the bat, it's important to clarify what exactly a root canal is, as it's fairly difficult to judge just from its name. Essentially, a root canal treatment, also known as an endodontic procedure, is when the dentist drills into your tooth to treat the soft pulp found on the inside. 

Why would I need a root canal procedure?

Your dentist will advise a root canal procedure if the soft pulp within your tooth becomes seriously infected or inflamed. This might happen for a number of reasons including tooth decay, frequent dental procedures or damage. The pulp of a tooth can become inflamed or infected after an injury, even if there are no visible chips or cracks.

Over 22 million root canal procedures were performed in the U.S in 2005/2006.

As the infection in the tooth's pulp extends into the roots, the nerves in these areas become damaged and can cause it to die. Before this happens, the infection or inflammation can cause a great deal of discomfort and even abscesses in the tissue near the tooth's roots.

In years past, the only treatment for a deep pulp infection was tooth extraction but, luckily, modern technology has advanced so that you can keep your tooth and go through the root canal procedure with relatively little discomfort.

If you need a root canal procedure, you're far from alone – the treatment is very common, with the American Association of Endodontics reporting over 22 million root canal procedures performed in the U.S in 2005/2006.

How does a root canal procedure work?

The overall root canal treatment is a relatively simple process that includes minimal amounts of pain – the most uncomfortable part will likely be getting the anaesthetic to numb the tooth for the remainder of the procedure. The first step in the root canal procedure will be getting x-rays done of the tooth so your dentist can see exactly where the damage is. Then, a local anaesthetic will be administered to numb the tooth completely. You may feel a bit of a sting when the anaesthetic is administered, but this won't last long.

Getting a root canal is not as scary as you might have thought.Getting a root canal is not as scary as you might have thought.

Next, your dentist or endodontist will drill into the crown of the tooth to be able to access the pulp within. Using delicate files, the infected pulp will then be cleaned out from the inside of your tooth, from the cavity down to the roots. The files will also be used to make room in the space for the filling material while irrigation is used to clean out any extra debris.

The final step will be to fill the newly cleaned out space with a permanent material to prevent any further infection or inflammation. Dentists usually use a substance called gutta-percha for this. Finally, your dentist will seal the opening with a temporary filling. This will remain until a permanent filling or crown is put in at a later visit.

What sort of recovery process can I expect from the procedure?

Getting a root canal can cause some tenderness for a few days following the procedure. Treat the pain with over the counter pain medications and avoid putting pressure on the tooth until it is fully restored with a permanent filling or crown.

If you're experiencing tooth pain and think you might need a root canal, the experts at City Dentists would be more than happy to help.