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Root canals: Why they’re nothing to be fearful about

Do you have dentophobia? One look at the word, and you already know what the term means: fear of the dentist. For many, these trepidations derive from the procedures that dental offices perform and the perception that the exam will cause them pain.

One of the more common sources of anxiety is root canals. In truth, there’s nothing to be afraid of. However, should you be in need of one and decide to put it off — or worse, not get it at all — the long-term health repercussions that could result are quite fear-inducing.

What is a root canal?
A root canal is a common procedure that is designed to save the affected tooth from the health consequences of decay, which often results in an infection. Before root canals were ever a thing, there was only one way to fix such a problem: extraction. In other words, the problematic tooth had to be pulled out to prevent the infection from spreading and eliminate the pain, which is just one of the many consequences of untreated tooth decay.

But root canals serve as a last-ditch effort to preserve the tooth so it remains fully functional and capable of performing its main tasks, such as chewing, cutting and tearing.

The average mouth has 32 teeth; all of them are potentially susceptible to root canal treatment. Generally speaking, though, it’s the back molars that tend to be the most likely to require a root canal. This is mainly due to the fact that this is where much of the chewing action happens, as food residue that isn’t brushed and flossed away can cause decay, which begins with the buildup of plaque and tartar.

What does the root canal procedure actually involve?
It’s the root canal procedure that patients often worry about. However, thanks to incredible innovations in both treatments and technology, root canals aren’t as invasive — nor expensive — as you might suspect. Since the “root” of the problem is within the nerves of the gumline and the affected tooth, drilling needs to be performed. Prior to utiising the endodontic file and other appropriate instrumentation, a local anesthetic is injected into the region. You may encounter a subtle sting during the injection, but it is mild, fast-acting and temporary, lasting no more than a couple of seconds.

The drilling is what allows your dentist to reach the infected pulp, clean it out and replace it with filling material. This filling is what supports the strength and structure of the tooth and also helps prevent the infection from returning.

As for how long this process takes, a lot of it depends on the severity and extent of the infection. Generally speaking, though, it’s usually between a half-hour to an hour for each appointment over three visits, and there is typically at least a week in between the respective procedures to allow for proper healing. The third and final visit — which involves crowning — is scheduled several months later.

Regular office visits are crucial to problem prevention and treatment. Regular office visits are crucial to problem prevention and treatment.  

How do you know if you need a root canal?
Unless you’re experienced in dentistry as a profession, you probably won’t know when a toothache is something that will go away on its own, the sign of a cavity or a symptom that warrants a root canal. Your dentist will be able to make this determination, which is yet another reason why you should be sure to schedule biannual cleanings; they can identify issues before they become major or irreversible.

At a very basic level, the possibility of root canal treatment is related to localized pain. You may feel a sharp twinge when biting down on something hard or just through chewing action, in general. Sometimes, the pain can be quite noticeable, others more of a dull ache. Hot and cold temperatures, such as from drinking coffee or eating ice cream, may also instigate discomfort.

Regardless, if ongoing tooth pain is a problem, your dentist can help.

What happens if you don’t get a root canal when you need one?
Aside from the constant pain, not getting a root canal can lead to permanent damage. Depending on the severity of the infection, it can spread to your gums and jawbone. If it gets that deep, you may lose the tooth completely or a part of your jaw may need to be removed. Now that’s something to be afraid of.

At City Dentists, we can make the pain and the fear of a root canal disappear. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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