They are among the most common procedures dentists perform each day, but root canal treatments are poorly understood. They’re also disproportionately feared. People universally like to compare punishing, boring tasks to root canals. ”This exam is worse than a root canal” or “I’d rather be having a root canal” are not uncommon refrains.
Yet root canal treatments are a safe and effective way to save natural teeth and avoid costly implants. So let’s drill down on this dreaded subject and hopefully chip away at any apprehension you have about how a root canal may be a solution to save your smile — and health.
What is a root canal?
First, let’s consider your teeth themselves. A section of each tooth is visible, its white enamel glistening when you smile. The root, of course, delves below the gum line into the socket. Its job is to anchor your tooth to your jaw. Front teeth typically have a single root whereas molars, including wisdom teeth, have as many as three or four. Regardless of the number of roots it has, inside each tooth exists the pulp chamber, a fancy-sounding vestibule for nerves, blood vessels and pulp. The pulp, which is connective tissue, descends from the chamber — usually the middle of the tooth — down through the cavity of each root. A jelly-like tissue, pulp is considered the innermost layer of the tooth.
The section of pulp cavity inside each root is known as a root canal. So when we talk about a root canal in dental terms, we can be discussing either a healthy or unhealthy tooth. A root canal treatment, however, is a process to fix infected or inflamed pulp inside the root of the tooth. Without treatment, tooth decay can proliferate from the infected tooth to adjacent teeth.
Should the pulp become injured or infected, the tooth can feel sensitive or painful. This is thanks to the nerves contained within the gelatinous pulp. Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures — be they food or drink — is one key sign of a problem. Spontaneous shooting pain from an affected tooth is also a telltale signal.
Sometimes, experiencing severe pain can lead us to believe treating the problem will be just as painful if not more so. But root canal treatment is one of the most routine procedures dentists perform. It can also be a speciality area of dentistry known as endodontics; root canal treatment is sometimes called endodontic treatment. Essentially, it’s a treatment targeting the problematic pulp.
Dentists with advanced training in endodontic treatment are known, unsurprisingly, as endodontists. No matter who is treating the problematic pulp, though, they will begin by numbing your tooth — just as they would ahead of a filling. Once your mouth is numb, a hole will be drilled through the crown and into the pulp chamber. The roots will then be rinsed out with a liquid to kill bacteria and flood out debris.
Fine instruments are then used to clean out each of the root canals. Once they are clean, your dental care professional will fill the root canals and fill the tooth.
Finally, the crown of the tooth must be shaped and adjusted to your bite. After it’s all over, you can expect a long time of continued use out of your tooth; it can remain in your jaw and help your smile, speech and digestion for decades to come.
Signs you need a root canal
If you experience any of the following symptoms, it is imperative to call us. Not only do we want to try to relieve any severe pain, but we also want to save the affected tooth and stop tooth decay before it spreads to adjacent teeth. Even with the advent of implants, there is no substitute for your natural tooth. So reach out if you notice:
- Pain upon chewing or biting
- Sharp, shooting pain radiating from your tooth
- Swelling in your gums
- Facial swelling
- Discolouration of the tooth
Root canal treatment is necessary for many reasons. Perhaps your tooth was damaged in an accident and an infection has taken hold. Perhaps a dental carry has caused significant decay. Alternatively, a previous filling may have become infected. Cracks in your tooth owing to nighttime grinding could also lead to tooth decay.
When you experience pain, do not delay. An infection will not resolve on its own and your tooth could be at risk, as could your jaw bone.
Should you go to a dentist or endodontist for your root canal?
As mentioned, endodontists are dentists specialising in root canal treatment. They are dentists with extra training to specialise in caring for and addressing complicated problems with this specific part of the tooth. They tend to excel in severe pain management, too.
Dentists are more general practitioners, but we also perform root canal treatment regularly. We can help you determine if you need to elevate your case to an endodontic practitioner or if the decay or problems warrant a routine procedure in our offices. Hopefully, we will catch any infection early, minimising nerve issues and tooth decay that might necessitate an endodontist’s involvement.
Root canal aftercare
Even before your root canal treatment begins, we will discuss root canal post-care. As with any local anesthesia, expect your mouth to remain numb for a few hours after the procedure. You may choose to take time to rest or recover quietly at home after your visit. The typical pain level will be similar to that of a regular filling, but you may be just slightly sorer. The pain may last a few days, too, as the gums adjust.
And remember: You will no longer be experiencing the pain which brought you into our office.
You may want to take mild pain-reducing tablets before the anesthesia completely wears off to mitigate your pain. Putting ice on your cheek or jaw can help, too. Be sure to avoid especially hot, cold, hard or sticky foods right after surgery, and do keep your mouth clean.
We will furnish you with post-operative instructions and answer all questions before treatment begins.
Root canal costs
We accept many payment mechanisms — including insurance — to help you cover the cost of this necessary procedure. Our office staff can assist with any payment questions.
Please do not allow fear of high costs to put off caring for your oral health. If you ignore early warning signs of a problem, further damage will happen — and your bill will go up, too.
If you have been experiencing the signs of a root canal problem — ranging from swollen gums to sensitivity to temperatures or even a cracked tooth — please contact us as soon as possible. We want to reduce your pain, limit damage and preserve your natural teeth. There’s nothing like them.