Few things can strike fear into a dental patient like finding out that you need a root canal. With new technologies emerging all the time to continuously improve the efficiency of root canal therapy and the comfort of the patient, is root canal really something to be feared? We think not.
What is endodontic therapy?
Root canal therapy is one form of endodontic therapy. Derived from the Greek words ‘endo’ (inside) and ‘odont’ (tooth), endodontic therapy describes treatments that focus on the inside of the tooth. A general dentist or endodontist can perform root canal therapy using local anesthetic.
Anatomy of a Tooth
The hard outer covering of a tooth is referred to as enamel. Enamel is a hard layer that protects the root by guarding against acid attacks which can lead to decay and protects the tooth from sensitivity. Under the enamel is a layer of the tooth called dentin.
Dentin forms the bulk of the tooth, extending from just under the enamel and continuing below the gum line and into the root of the tooth which is surrounded by bone.
Inside the tooth is a soft collection of connective tissue as well as blood vessels and nerves which are collectively referred to as the pulp of the tooth. The pulp of the tooth can become a source of significant pain if it develops inflammation or infection, which can result from injury of the tooth or from decay that has penetrated to the inner core of the tooth.
Signs of Possible Infection
Although not everyone who requires a root canal is symptomatic, if any of these symptoms are present, we suggest seeing your dentist to investigate potential concerns.
- A change in tooth sensitivity results in extreme pain when tooth is exposed to either heat or cold.
- Soreness in the mouth when tissues around the tooth are palpated
- Metallic or bitter taste from the tissues around the affected tooth that does not improve with brushing
- The presence of pus or a white head at the tooth site, with or without active drainage
- A large cavity or visible injury to the structure of the tooth
Risks Associated with Delayed Treatment
Treating an infected tooth is critical to ensure that the infection is alleviated. Infections in a tooth’s pulp does not heal on its own. Left to fester, infections can travel down the root canals, infecting bone and surrounding tissues. Infections left to fester will put the tooth at risk of being lost.
Severe pain that resolves before seeing the dentist may be an indication that the root system of the tooth has been a casualty of infection, resulting in an infection that you can no longer feel. This does not indicate that the infection has been resolved.
If an abscess has developed around the tooth, you may require drainage and antibiotics treatment before it is safe to perform root canal therapy.
Root Canal Procedure
Once your dentist has clearly identified the degree of the tooth’s infection or inflammation using diagnostic tools such as x-rays, it is time to get to work saving your tooth. An opening is created on the crown area of the tooth which will provide a pathway by which the dentist will access the tooth’s inner pulp. Once the dentist or endodontist has access to the pulp, the inside of the tooth will be excavated using very small tools. Once the inside pulp has been removed, the inner tooth can be cleaned and prepped for the introduction of a filling compound.
The filling compound, called gutta-percha will be cemented into the tooth’s inner core, ensuring the protection of the root system. Your tooth may require additional structural reinforcement in the form of a rod placed into the tooth. Your dentist will communicate with you about your tooth’s requirements.
Once the gutta-percha has sealed off the root canal, a temporary filling material will be placed on top of it. The temporary filling will ensure that the tooth is not at risk of further infection until a crown can be placed over tooth to fully complete the restoration at a follow-up appointment.
Should I Be Afraid of Root Canal Therapy?
While root canals have notoriously been looked upon in fear, the truth is that root canals are no more painful than other common procedures such as having a cavity filled. The reality of the tooth canal procedure is that it does require additional time to ensure that the infected pulp and nerves are completely removed. This results in more time spent in your dentist’s chair but does not mean that any additional discomfort will be felt. In fact, patients suffering from an infected tooth will feel relief once the affected nerves are removed. Root canals have been known to save teeth from the necessity of extraction, so don’t let fear of the dentist keep you from having your concerns reviewed promptly.