Dental procedures make some people nervous; 99.9% of the time, these nerves are often unfounded and are based on bad or outdated information. However, no other procedure beats endodontic therapy in the “needless worry department”.
Endodontic therapy is the more technical term for a root canal, and we in the dental profession spend a lot of time trying to educate people about this most frequently misunderstood procedure.
Root canals are the best way to treat an infected tooth, because root canals leave the natural tooth in place to do the job it was meant to do: chew food and help your face keep its shape. The modern root canal is no more uncomfortable than having a cavity filled, but people still seem to believe that the procedure comes to us from the Spanish Inquisition, not medical science!
Today, the misconception that a root canal is the worst thing you can have done at the dentist’s office is driven by two things: one, old clichés (e.g. That sounds like less fun than a root canal), but mostly bad information that is circulated by opportunistic and unscrupulous individuals (including some dentists!).
Our patients, and the people of Plano, TX deserve better when it comes to their oral health. In this post, we’re going to take a good look at what happens during a root canal: why you need one, and what to expect in the dentist’s chair. In our next post, we’ll take on the “root canal rumor mill” head on.
Why Do People Get Root Canals?
Do you have a tooth that aches persistently, has become extremely sensitive to hot and cold, has gums that are swollen or blemished, or has become much darker in color than its neighbors? That tooth might be infected. An infected tooth is a big problem. The infection starts inside the tooth, and works its way down the roots. This will cause the tooth to either fall out, or an abscess (a swollen pocket of pus) is created. From there, it follows “the path of least resistance” as it makes its way into the body, where it can cause serious problems, and in very extreme cases, death.
To stop all that from happening, your dentist will recommend a root canal. After we’ve peeled the patient off the ceiling, we explain what a root canal actually is.
What Happens During a Root Canal?
A root canal is the removal of the dental pulp. The dental pulp is a mass of nerves and tissues in the center of your tooth, and it is responsible for providing the tooth with nutrients and flushing away any wastes. The dental pulp becomes infected when the tooth’s exterior is damaged, either as a result of disease (read: neglect) or injury.
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria. No amount of mouthwash or brushing can eliminate this bacteria; in fact, it’s supposed to be there! However, these bacteria can turn hostile if given the opportunity, and a crack or fracture in a tooth is just such an opportunity. The bacteria work their way into the crack and infects the dental pulp. The clock is now ticking to stop the infection from making its way elsewhere in the body.
The symptoms listed above (toothache, temperature sensitivity, swollen gums, gums with blemishes, or an extremely discolored tooth) are a sign that you should see your dentist immediately.
The root canal procedure is fairly straightforward to understand:
Imaging: Your dentist will take x-rays of your teeth to identify where the actual problem tooth is.
Local Anesthetic: Once the “problem tooth” is identified, your dentist will apply a local anesthetic to numb the area and protect you from as much discomfort as possible.
Removal of the Dental Pulp: Your dentist will open the tooth and remove the pulp entirely. This is followed by a thorough disinfection of the interior of the tooth.
Filling and Restoration: With the pulp removed and the tooth completely disinfected, your dentist will fill the opening with a natural latex material called “gutta-percha” (this may require a small amount of reshaping to ensure that the filling stays in place). This is usually followed by a dental restoration. Most often, that restoration is a crown, which gives the tooth increased structural strength.
Recovery: Most patients are able to resume their normal day only a few hours after the procedure. There are no changes to your diet required or anything else that might impact your lifestyle (other than perhaps a serious conversation about how well you should be cleaning your teeth).
Why Is Keeping My Natural Tooth in Place So Important?
Your natural teeth are a marvel of nature, and nothing dental technology has devised can match it when it comes to chewing and grinding food. Even the best artificial teeth fall short of your natural tooth’s performance even without its pulp.
Also, removing your tooth (an extraction) isn’t as simple as you might think. Today, a tooth extraction is a surgical procedure that can be pretty painful and traumatic. Furthermore, with surgery of any kind there is always a much heightened risk of infection! To avoid all this, the majority of dentists today will do all they can to keep your tooth in place.
Some people (and even some dentists) out there will insist that the best way to deal with an infected tooth is an extraction. This is a persistent rumor that has existed for over a century, and it is a rumor that is based on bad science. Unfortunately, some have figured out how to profit from this and other similar misconceptions.
In our next post, we’ll dig into some of the rumors about root canals. As they say, “The more you know!”.
Got a Toothache That Won’t Go Away?
Don’t delay your treatment! It is possible that you have an infected tooth, and if you don’t address it as soon as possible, you could lose your tooth; and from there, you’re putting your general health, even your life, at stake.
If you’re in pain, give us a call now at 972-380-8105.