Of all the terms you hear in a dentist’s office, to most people root canal is probably the scariest. Well, I hope to change all of that.
To curb a fear of something, one must understand it. So, what is a root canal? Simply put, a root canal is a treatment to repair and save a badly decayed or infected tooth. A root canal procedure involves removing the nerve and pulp, cleaning the inside of the tooth, and finally sealing the inside of the tooth. Think of it simply as a filling inside the tooth instead of on top of the tooth. Without treatment, the tissue around the tooth will become infected and abscesses may form.
The term “root canal” actually refers to the natural cavity within the center of the tooth. The soft area within the root canal is called the pulp or pulp chamber. The tooth’s nerve is also within the root canal.
Why does pulp and nerve need to be removed?
When a tooth’s pulp or nerve is damaged, it breaks down and bacteria begins to grow within the tooth. The bacteria, along with other decayed debris, can cause an infection, or even an abscessed tooth. An abscess is a puss filled pocket that forms at the ends of the tooth’s roots. In addition to an abscess, an infection in a root canal can also cause:
1. Swelling in the gums, and even spreading to the face, neck, or head.
2. Bone loss around the tip of the root.
3. A hole can be created in the side of the tooth with drainage leaking into the gums and even through the cheek into the skin.
What causes pulp or nerve damage in the first place?
The nerve and/or pulp can become inflamed, irritated, and infected due to several things. The most common causes are deep decay, repeated dental procedures on a single tooth, large fillings, a crack/chip in the tooth, or trauma to the face.
How do you know you need a root canal?
Some of the common signs that a root canal procedure may be needed are:
- Severe toothache when chewing or applying pressure.
- Extended sensitivity or pain to hot or cold temperatures.
- A darkening of the tooth, discoloration.
- Swelling and/or tenderness in the nearby gums.
- A reoccurring pimple on the gums.
How much pain is involved?
Root canals have a long standing reputation of being very painful, but actually most patients compare it to a filling, which is minimal pain.
For a few days after the procedure there may be sensitivity due to natural tissue inflammation, especially if there was pain and infection before the procedure. Most patients control this with simple over-the-counter medications and prescribed antibiotics. Most return to normal activities the next day.
Are there any alternatives?
Saving the natural teeth is always the best option, if possible. The only alternative is to extract the tooth and replace it with either a bridge, implant, or a removable denture to restore chewing function and prevent other teeth from shifting. These alternatives are not only more expensive, but also require more treatment time and additional procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.
Prevention is very simple in theory; brush twice a day, floss at least once a day, and see your dentist regularly. Also, when playing sports, remember to where a mouth guard to avoid trauma.
I hope you never need a root canal procedure, but if you do, remember it is nothing to fear. We are here for you.
We know you have a choice when choosing a dentist or orthodontist in Oklahoma City, Midwest City, Moore, Yukon, Tulsa, Dallas, Edmond, Highland Village, and Phoenix and we thank you for making Dental Depot your partner in good oral health!