Despite the negative connotations surrounding root canals, the procedure officially known as endodontic treatment is nothing to fear. Instead of causing pain, endodontic treatment actually relieves dental pain from infected or inflamed tooth pulp, and can save teeth that would otherwise have to be extracted.
The phrase “root canal” actually refers to a part of the tooth: the hollow section inside that contains nerve tissue, blood vessels, and other cells known as pulp. Tooth decay, cracks in the teeth, or trauma to the mouth can cause the pulp to become irritated, inflamed or infected, resulting in pain, increased sensitivity to hot and cold, and tooth discoloration. Endodontic treatment—or root canal therapy— refers to the removal of the infected pulp along with the nerves within the tooth so you no longer feel pain.
Infections within the tooth are caused by outside trauma that allows bacteria to get inside, so if you break or crack a tooth, you should see your dentist immediately to assess the situation. However, infections might not be caused by an obvious injury, so look out for these symptoms, which could indicate you’re a candidate for endodontic treatment:
When a tooth infection is not treated right away, it can damage the bone around the tooth and result in a required extraction.
Endodontic treatment starts with the dentist making a small access hole on the surface of the tooth, and then using a small file to remove everything inside the root canal: nerves, blood vessels, and pulp, both infected and healthy, if any remains.
Once the inside of the tooth is cleared out, the dentist will reshape and decontaminate the hollow area using small files and irrigation tools. At the end of the procedure, the hollow area will be filled with a rubbery material and adhesive cement will be used to completely seal the canal.
After the treatment, most patients opt to add a crown to the dead tooth in order to enable regular chewing functions—without a crown, the tooth can become brittle and break.
Endodontic treatment is usually performed using local anesthesia, and once it wears off there may be some minor residual discomfort that can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain medications. For more involved root canal procedures, your dentist might prescribe a stronger pain medication or an antibiotic to treat or prevent infection.
It’s usually a good idea to avoid chewing on that side of the mouth for 24-48 hours following the procedure. If you don’t have a crown attached immediately after the root canal, you will have to be especially careful going forward. However, as soon as the treatment is complete, you can brush and floss as you normally would.
If you’ve experienced a visible tooth injury or have unexplained tooth pain, it’s important to see an endodontic specialist as soon as possible. To set up a consultation with the root canal therapy experts at Smile Designers, call us at (619) 222-6000 today.