Root Canals

Root canal is a scary term for many patients.  It conjures up images of painful needles and drills, the worst nightmares of dental phobia.  The reality is that the procedure is incredibly common, with more than 14 million performed each year.  Root canals are important because they can save your natural teeth, preventing the need for bridges or dental implants.

Signs You Need a Root Canal

The center of your tooth is made up of pulp, a collection of blood vessels and nerves that anchor the surrounding tooth.  When the pulp is affected by decay, trauma, chips or breakages, it runs the risk of infection.  Left untreated, that can turn into an abscess or even bone loss in the jaw.  Be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

  • Pain while chewing or applying pressure
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, especially if the sensitivity lingers
  • Darkening of the tooth
  • Pus drainage in the mouth
  • Swelling or tenderness of the lymph nodes
  • Swelling of the gums around the tooth

These are all signs your tooth’s pulp is infected.  If so, a root canal is necessary to prevent the infection from spreading.

Diagnosis

A digital X-ray is taken of teeth believed to be infected.  After examining the X-ray, your dentist will examine your teeth, gums and bone structure to develop a treatment plan.  This frequently occurs during your regular cleaning session.

The Procedure

Most root canals are performed in one office visit.  Before the procedure, patients are numbed with local anesthetic.  Then the dentist drills into the tooth, creating an opening into the canal.  The injured pulp is removed, and the space is cleaned before filling with a sealant called gutta percha.  This rubber-like material is “biocompatible,” meaning it won’t harm the healthy tissue around it.

After the procedure is complete, your dentist places a crown on the tooth.  The crown – usually ceramic – serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose.  The stability it provides reduces the risk of complications from the procedure.

More than 90% of root canal procedures are successful, making it one of the best possible investments in your dental health.

After Care

In the days following a root canal, patients sometimes experience sensitivity.  Over the counter pain medication can help treat any pain that might occur.