Root canal therapy is a treatment that is used to repair and save a tooth that is otherwise decayed or infected.
Root canals are performed when the nerve of the tooth becomes infected or the pulp is damaged. During a root canal procedure, the nerve and the pulp are removed, and the inside of the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and sealed.
Root canals have at times had the reputation of being painful. But the truth is that many people report that the procedure itself is no more painful than having a filling placed. On the other hand, the pain and discomfort experienced in the period leading up to seeking dental care can be quite painful, more so than the root canal procedure itself.
What Is Dental Pulp?
The pulp is the soft area in the center of the tooth. The nerve of the tooth is within root canals (see picture above). The root canals travel from the pulp chamber down into the bottom of the root canal. The pulp contains blood vessels and connective tissue that nourish the tooth.
A tooth’s nerve is not vitally important to a tooth’s health and function once the tooth has grown and established itself, after which its only real function is sensory, provide sensation of heat or cold. Not having a nerve there will not affect the overall functioning of the tooth.
Why Remove the Pulp?
When nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, bacteria can start to build up and multiply inside the pulp chamber. This bacteria and decay can cause an infection or an abscess (swelling or collection of pus) at the end of a tooth’s root.
An infection in the root canal of a tooth can also cause swelling that may spread to your jaw, face, neck, or head, as well as bone loss around the tip of the root.
What Damages a Tooth’s Nerve or Pulp?
A tooth’s nerve and/or pulp can become irritated, inflamed, and infected due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on a tooth, large fillings, a crack or chip in the tooth, or trauma to the face.
Signs That A Root Canal Might Be Needed?
Some of the symptoms that you might experience and which you should come into Rolling Oaks Dental to get checked out are:
- Severe tooth pain when chewing or applying pressure
- Pain or sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- Discoloration or darkening of the tooth
- Swelling and tenderness in gums
- A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums
- Sometimes no symptoms are present.
The root canal procedure requires one or more office visits and can be performed by your Rolling Oaks dentists. On rare occasions we may refer you to an endodontist, who specializes in root canals, if there are more serious complications involved. But nearly all root canals are performed right here in our office very successfully.
The first step in the procedure is to take a number of X-rays at different angles to see the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs of infection in the surrounding bone. We’ll then use local anesthesia to numb the area near the tooth. We also offer nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and oral conscious sedation to help you through this procedure if you experience too much anxiety or stress.
To keep the area dry and free of saliva during treatment we will place a sheet of rubber around the tooth.
An access hole is then drilled into the tooth. The pulp and nerve tissue are removed from the tooth. Once this is all out, along with any decay and debris, the tooth is very thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to ensure no bacteria gets trapped inside.
Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, it needs to be sealed. If there was a bad infection, we may put a medication inside the tooth to clear it up fully first, in which case a temporary filling will be placed in the exterior hole in the tooth to keep contaminants out between appointments. But most of the time it will be sealed right away final filling put in.
To fill the interior of the tooth, a sealer paste and rubber compound are placed into the tooth’s root canals and then a harder, standard filling is placed to fill the upper part of the tooth.
The final step often involves further restoration. As a tooth that needs a root canal is often one that had a large filling already or extensive decay or other weakness, we will most likely place a crown on the tooth to protect it, prevent it from breaking, and restore it to full function.
Root canals should relieve the pain you feel. It is recommended that, until your root canal procedure is fully finished and the permanent filling and a crown, if needed, is in place, that you try to minimize chewing on that tooth. This will help avoid recontaminating the tooth’s interior and or a fragile tooth from breaking before it is fully restored.
Root canal treatment is almost always successful, with a more than a 95% success rate. Many teeth fixed with a properly done root canal can last a lifetime without any further problems.
For the first few days after completing the treatment, your tooth may still be sensitive due to natural tissue inflammation, particularly if there was pain or infection prior to the procedure. This discomfort can usually be controlled with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen. Most patients can return to their normal activities the next day.
Rare But Potential Complications With Root Canals
Despite our best efforts to clean and seal a tooth, it is possible for a new infection to occur. While this is rare, the possible reasons for this can include that a tooth had more than the expected number of canals and was missed. An undetected crack in the tooth of root of a tooth or some breakdown of the sealing material allowing bacteria to get into the inner parts of the tooth can be another possible cause.
If any of these circumstances occur, sometimes re-treatment can be successful. Other times, endodontic surgery must be performed in order to save the tooth.
Are There Alternatives to Root Canals?
If it is at all possible, saving your natural teeth is the very best option. Your natural teeth make it possible for you to eat a wide variety of foods necessary to maintain proper nutrition and so the root canal procedure is our treatment of choice.
Usually the only alternative to a root canal procedure is having the tooth extracted. The tooth would then be replaced with a bridge, implant, or removable partial denture otherwise your other teeth may begin shifting. Not only are these alternatives more expensive than a root canal, they also usually require more time and additional procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.
Whether from decay or physical trauma, a tooth nerve can become damaged and infected. Root canals are usually a one-visit in-patient procedure that will prevent further damage and extend the life of your natural tooth.
Though root canal therapy has a reputation for being painful, the toothaches caused by an infected root are usually more painful than the treatment!
We also offer nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and oral conscious sedation to ease your nerves throughout the procedure.