If you’re getting a root canal for the first time, it’s helpful to know exactly what to expect. Are they easy? Do they really hurt? Why do I need one and what’s involved in the process?
According to the American Association of Endodontists, a root canal is a procedure that treats the inside of your tooth — an area filled with blood vessels — so that it can continue to function normally without needing to be extracted.
Specialists refer to it as “endodontic therapy.” It’s almost like getting a filling in a cavity, except the cavity extends deep into a hollow chamber inside of the tooth and through the roots. Once the infected nerve tissues are removed, your dentist cleans and medicates the inside of the tooth, seals it off, and usually tops it off with a crown.
The Need for Root Canals:
Generally, someone would need a root canal if their tooth shows signs of an internal infection. It could be that you have an abscess on the gums, a cyst visible on the x-ray, or a darkening tooth that’s indicative of a dying nerve. Even if you had experienced trauma to a tooth two decades earlier, it may not show signs of a dying nerve until many years have passed.
Left untreated, these teeth can start to dissolve from the inside-out, spread bacteria to other teeth, or lead to secondary infections in other parts of the body (including the brain).
You’ll be surprised to know that getting a root canal can be a very comfortable process! Most “pain” associated with the procedure is caused by the infected tooth up until the time of treatment, which is meant to relieve your discomfort. More people fall asleep during root canals than just about any other dental treatment.
Still, you might want to opt for a sedative to ease your mind. Depending on which dentist you use, most will recommend nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or an oral sedative, which can leave you feeling sleepy for a few hours before it wears off. Very rarely does a root canal require IV sedation.
First, your dentist will remove the damaged tooth structure and access the nerve chamber. Then, he or she will use small files to reach into the nerve canal to remove diseased tissues. Once the inside surfaces are cleaned, medication will be applied to reduce the risk of re-infection. Finally, the chamber is sealed off with something like gutta percha or another biocompatible material.
The treated tooth will be more brittle. Getting a crown can protect your tooth to allow you to continue biting and chewing on it.
No matter what type of dental treatment you’ve had — a root canal, crown, or filling — you need to brush and floss around the tooth daily to prevent recurring tooth decay.
Signs of Problems
Let your dentist know if you’re experiencing any lingering discomfort, swelling, or throbbing around your tooth. Most tenderness is associated with local anesthesia and will wear off in a timely manner, but on rare occasions a root canal might need to be re-treated by a specialist.