Getting to the Root of Root Canal

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“Root canal” are two words that no dental patient wants to hear. But today’s root canal treatments are quick, relatively pain free, and extremely effective in saving teeth that are badly decayed or infected.

When people talk about “root canals,” they’re referring to root canal surgery or treatment. A tooth’s root canal is the natural cavity within the center of the tooth. The canal holds the tooth’s nerve, along with the soft, spongy pulp that fills the center of the tooth.

Root canal treatment is required to save a tooth that has badly decayed or become infected. When a tooth’s nerve tissue or pulp is damaged (usually due to deep decay, injury, repeated dental procedures on a single tooth, or a large filling) it breaks down, allowing bacteria to grow inside the tooth. The bacteria may cause an abscess to form past the roots of the tooth, and can result in swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head or even bone loss around the tip of the root.

5 Signs You May Need a Root Canal

Only your dentist can tell if you do, but most patients experience one or more of these 5 signs:

  1. Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
  2. Prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold temperatures (after the hot or cold has been removed) and/or pain
  3. Discoloration (a darkening) of the tooth
  4. Swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums
  5. A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums

Occasionally, patients don’t have any of these symptoms yet are surprised to learn they need root canal treatment! That’s why regular dental checkups are so important. Your dentist can alert you to potential dental problems before they become serious issues.

What Can I Expect When I Go in for Root Canal Treatment?

The first step in the procedure is to take an X-ray. This will allow your dentist to view the shape of the root canal(s) and determine the difficulty of the procedure. It will also show any signs of infection in the surrounding bone. If the infection were allowed to spread, it could lead to deterioration of bone or dangerous – possibly fatal – internal infection in the blood, tissue, or organs.

Next, the area around the tooth will be anesthetized. Believe it or not, anesthesia is often not necessary, since the nerve is dead. But most dentists still anesthetize the area to make the patient more relaxed and at ease. To keep the area dry and free of saliva during treatment, your dentist will place a sheet of rubber around the tooth.

After this, the dentist will drill an access hole will into the infected tooth. Then using a series of root canal files (similar to tiny, thin drill bits), your dentist will remove the decayed pulp and nerve tissue, along with the infection-causing bacteria.

When the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, it is sealed. Some dentists like to wait a week before sealing the tooth, especially if there if there is an infection. Others may choose to seal the tooth the same day it is cleaned out. Generally speaking, if you’re experiencing pain, tenderness, or swelling at the time of your appointment, your dentist will be less likely to choose single-visit treatment. Also, your dentist will be more likely to choose a multi-appointment approach if your treatment is more complex; for example, if the affected teeth that have multiple root canals (molars) or the root canal is difficult to access or negotiate.

If the root canal is not completed on the same day, a temporary filling is placed in the exterior hole in the tooth to keep out contaminants like saliva and food between appointments. Until the treatment is completely finished (by filling or crown), it’s a good idea to minimize chewing on the tooth. This will help avoid contaminating the tooth’s interior and may prevent a fragile tooth from breaking before it can be fully restored.

The last step is filling and capping. The interior of the canal and tooth is filled with a sealer paste and a rubber compound called gutta percha. The access hole created at the beginning of the treatment is capped with a filling. If the tooth was damaged or abscessed, it may also require a crown.

For the first few days after root canal treatment, the tooth may feel sensitive. This sensitivity or discomfort usually can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medications. Most patients can return to their normal activities the next day.

Think you may need root canal treatment? Make an appointment with us today!

Dr. Todd Hasty of Shadow Valley Dental Group is a premier dentist serving patients in Maumee, Ohio. At Shadow Valley Dental Group, you can expect gentle, personalized dental care and unmatched dental expertise. We provide comprehensive services including cleanings, fillings, root canals, implants, cosmetic dental services, and more!

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