A root canal is a dental procedure designed to extract bacteria and prevent reinfection. In the process, a dentist removes infected or inflamed pulp from the tooth to preserve its structure. After the tooth is disinfected, the bone is sealed and filled or receives a cap.
Your dentist may recommend a root canal if your tooth was recently damaged, has experienced a high degree of decay or is infected to the point of pain. The procedure may also be preferred in lieu of a bridge or implant if there’s enough structure to be saved.
About Root Canals
Years ago, root canals had a reputation as a painful dental procedure and many patients would put off getting one. Yet today, advances in technique and anesthetic usage have made the process more straightforward. Ignoring an infected tooth may leave a patient in more pain, cause the damage to worsen or an abscess to form.
In what instances may a root canal be needed?
- Decay extends deep into the tooth
- A patient has already had multiple dental procedures related to an infection
- Trauma to the mouth or face
- A crack or large chip in the tooth
- A deep cavity
- Issues related to an older filling
For most of these issues, bacteria goes after the tooth’s pulp, multiplying within its structure and damaging the pulp or nerve. If ignored, the infection may progress through the tooth down to the root. Not only will the patient experience a degree of discomfort, but swelling may be visible from the face or neck, bone loss can occur and a hole may form through the tooth, from which pus drains onto the gums.
Patients may be steered toward a root canal if they display the following symptoms:
- Extreme sensitivity to hot and cold food
- Pain while biting or chewing
- Pimples developing on the gums
- Swollen gums
- Visible decay
- Darkened gums
- A visibly chipped or cracked tooth
Following a root canal, patients not only find their smile improved but they also have an easier time chewing and biting, can handle hot and cold foods, and are placing less force on the surrounding teeth.
Not every damaged tooth will benefit from a root canal. The procedure may be discouraged if the:
- Tooth doesn’t have enough bone
- Pulp cannot be accessed
- Tooth is too damaged to be restored
What to Expect During a Root Canal
Patients will be given anesthesia at the start of the procedure. This will numb the pain but not enough to prevent the patient from returning to work or school afterwards. However, you should avoid eating until sensation returns to your mouth and expect a degree of discomfort once the anesthesia wears off.
Prior to administering anesthetic, your dentist will take X-rays of the tooth. After the anesthetic is administered:
- The dentist will place a dental dam in your mouth to keep the area free of saliva and protect the rest of your teeth.
- Using small instruments, the dentist will clean out the pulp from the tooth’s chamber, root canal and create space for a filling.
- After the area is cleaned, a filling will be placed into the tooth. Adhesive cement will help seal the tooth and a temporary filling may be added.
- Typical root canal procedures take two visits. During the second visit, your dentist will remove the temporary filling and add a crown on top to improve its appearance and bite strength. Not every tooth will receive a crown: Your dentist may add them to the teeth at the back of the mouth, but not for incisors and canines.
- If the tooth cannot support a crown, a post may be added.
Following a root canal, your dentist may provide the following instructions:
- Avoid eating for a few hours, so you don’t accidentally bite your tongue or cheek.
- When you can eat, stick with foods requiring little to no chewing, including yogurt, fish, apple sauce and scrambled eggs; hard foods should be avoided for several days.
- Your teeth will feel sensitive for a few days after the procedure. An over-the-counter pain medication can help dull the sensation as you recover.
Experiencing pain after a recent root canal procedure? We see same-day emergency visits!