Root canals, also known as endodontic treatment, are needed when an infection reaches the center of a tooth, usually as a result of decay or damage. The tooth’s pulp is sensitive because it is rich with blood vessels and nerve endings, which is why infection of this tissue is particularly painful. If the pulp of a tooth is infected and it is not treated, the infection can spread to surrounding tissues and abscesses often form.
The goal of a root canal is to save your natural tooth. This is important because whenever a tooth is extracted, bone density in the jaw is impacted. The roots of our teeth stimulate the growth and retention of jaw bone tissue; when the roots are removed, bone loss occurs. This can result in a weakened bite, changes to facial structures, and the movement of remaining teeth. For this reason, root canals are preferable to simple extraction.
To determine whether a root canal is needed, we will conduct an oral exam and ask you about your symptoms. Then, we will take an x-ray to look for signs of infection inside the tooth and to see if it has spread to the surrounding bone.
Contrary to popular belief, the root canals used to treat this type of infection are not painful––techniques for endodontic treatment have advanced to make the procedure less uncomfortable, and we use local anesthetic to make sure you’re not able to feel the work we do. Getting a root canal is no more painful than getting a filling for a cavity. In fact, putting off treatment and not getting a root canal when you need one is much more painful than the root canal itself!
During a root canal, we open your tooth, removing any infected tissue and then clean the tooth carefully to ensure that re-infection doesn’t occur. An antimicrobial solution is placed in the chamber of the tooth, then we fill it with a rubber-like material to securely seal the chamber and use a dental filling, inlay, or crown to close the tooth.
After your root canal, you can expect that your tooth will be sensitive for a few days, but you will be able to return to work and school immediately. If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics for your infection, take them as directed and finish your prescription even if your tooth feels better. Use over-the-counter pain relievers and cold compresses for any discomfort and swelling that you’re experiencing, and stick to a diet of soft foods until your tooth is no longer sore. If you need a crown, you will need to schedule a follow-up appointment to have it placed. By choosing a high-quality crown made with tooth-colored porcelain or ceramic material, it will blend in perfectly with your natural smile and you’ll have no visible signs of having had a root canal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Signs of infection severe enough to require a root canal include:
- Serious teeth pain when eating or when you put pressure on the area
- Teeth pain and sensitivity to hot or cold that lingers even after the hot or cold stimuli have been removed
- A small, pimple-like bump on the gums near the area of teeth pain
- It is very common to not have any symptoms at all
- What is the alternative to a root canal?
The only alternative to a root canal procedure is having the tooth extracted and replaced with a bridge, implant, or removable partial denture to restore chewing function and prevent adjacent teeth from shifting.