Damaged, infected, and irritated teeth can cause all kinds of grief for patients. Often, the only solution to these dental problems is a root canal.
What is a root canal?
Every year, millions of damaged teeth are treated using a root canal. This treatment is usually done on teeth that have become decayed or infected. A root canal is performed on the soft inner layer of the tooth just under the enamel and the hard outer layer known as “dentin”. During this procedure, the soft inner area (the pulp) along with the nerve and blood vessels are removed and the inside of the tooth is thoroughly cleaned. Then, the tooth is sealed.
Though root canals are relatively simple and straightforward, many patients are afraid of getting one done because they believe that the procedure will be painful or ineffective. There are a lot of scary myths out there about root canal treatment, but patients should know that at Green Tree Dental, we regularly perform root canals and this procedure is as familiar to us as putting in a filling. Root canals have more than a 95% success rate and many of our patients who get this treatment done end up with excellent final results that last a lifetime. Getting a root canal often relieves a patient’s pain and it saves the tooth.
Why do people need root canals?
Tooth damage or infection is the most common reason why people need a root canal. If the nerve inside the tooth or the pulp becomes irritated or infected due to decay, large dental fillings, a crack in the tooth, repeated dental procedures, or even facial trauma, a root canal may be necessary in order to save the tooth, get rid of pain, and maintain the aesthetics of your smile.
Dental pulp has to be removed if it becomes infected or abscessed. Infection can occur if the tooth is damaged in some way. Abscesses are infections that have spread past the root of the tooth into the jaw tissue. Both infections and abscesses can cause swelling in the face, head, and neck. This can lead to bone loss in the root of the teeth, and issues with drainage either through the gums or into the cheek through the skin.
The Root Canal Procedure
The root canal procedure1 is usually performed by an endodontist or a dentist who specializes in working with diseases and issues with dental pulp. It is usually completed in one or two office visits. The dentist begins by taking an x-ray of the tooth to determine whether there is an infection in the surrounding bone tissues. Then, the tooth and surrounding areas are numbed using anesthesia and the dentist puts in a rubber dam to keep the treated area free of saliva and bacteria during the procedure.
The first step of a root canal procedure involves drilling a small hole into the tooth. This is an “access hole” that the dentist uses to remove all of the decayed pulp, nerve tissue, connective tissue, and blood vessels from the tooth. This cleaning process is performed using root canal files. The dentist uses progressively larger files to gently hollow out the tooth. Water or sodium hypochlorite is used to flush away germs and debris.
Once the tooth has been cleaned thoroughly, it can be sealed. Dentists will sometimes wait up to one week to seal a tooth, but whether the tooth is sealed immediately or left open depends on the patient and their unique situation. When there is an infection present, the dentist is likely to recommend applying medication to the tooth first. Root canals that are not sealed during the first visit are given a temporary filling in the access hole to keep food and saliva out of the root canal between appointments.
At the second appointment (if one is needed), the interior of the tooth is filled with sealer paste and gutta-percha, a rubber compound. The exterior of the tooth is then covered with a dental filling. And finally, the dentist restores the appearance and functionality of the tooth by filing it down to make sure that the tooth topography is comfortable for the patient’s bite.
Are root canals painful?
Patients often worry that their root canal procedure will be painful, but most patients feel no pain during while they’re being treated because the nerve inside the tooth is already dead. In fact, patients regularly feel a great deal of relief after the procedure is complete! For the vast majority of patients, getting a root canal procedure done is no more painful than having a filling placed.
Right after your root canal, many of our patients at Green Tree Dental have tooth sensitivity and some mild inflammation. This is especially true if there was an infection or pain before the procedure was done. To control the pain, we recommend that patients use over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. Most patients return to their normal routine within 24 hours after their root canal.
How to Care for a Root Canal
If your root canal is not completed during the first appointment, (if the permanent filling or crown is not yet in place), it’s best to avoid chewing on that tooth. This will help avoid breaking a fragile tooth or contaminating it with bacteria before it can be filled or crowned. And don’t forget to brush, floss, and use mouthwash as you normally would between dental visits.
Root Canal Complications
Only 5% of patients experience complications from a root canal. Complications happen as a result of unforeseen circumstances such as:
- An undetected crack in the tooth’s root.
- Dental restoration failure. If previous dental restorations fail to prevent bacteria from getting past the sealant to the interior of the tooth, contamination of the interior of the tooth can lead to infection.
- Over time, the tooth sealant may break down and allow bacteria to contaminate the interior of the tooth.
In a number of these cases, another root canal could be successful, but some dentists might also recommend endodontic surgery such as an apicoectomy (a root-end resection). A root-end resection gets rid of infection and inflammation at the root by opening up the gum tissue to remove the infection and the bony end of the tooth. A filling may then be put in place to re-seal the root canal.
How to Keep Your Teeth Healthy
Nobody wants to get a root canal and the best way to avoid having this procedure is to take care of your teeth and gums every day. If you participate in contact sports, be sure to wear a mouth guard to protect your teeth from damage. Be sure to brush your teeth two times a day and floss at least once per day to keep your teeth healthy. And finally, schedule2 regular dental check-ups at Green Tree Dental to lower the chances that you’ll need a root canal or any other major dental restoration work done and to catch dental problems early so that can easily be repaired.