The prospect of a root canal fills many people with dread. Even if they have suffered with tooth pain for months, this procedure is the one about which patients feel the most anxiety. However, this is a routine procedure that can help you relieve intense tooth pain and restore your natural tooth. If you need a root canal, here’s what you need to know to ease your mind.
What is a root canal?
A root canal is necessary when your dental pulp – the soft tissues inside the tooth – becomes infected and inflamed.
To restore the tooth, your dentist removes the infected pulp, hollowing out the tooth before filling and sealing it. This procedure is used not to remove the natural tooth but to save as much tooth material as possible.
Signs you need a root canal
Tooth pain does not necessarily mean you need this procedure, but there are five main symptoms to watch for.
- Severe tooth pain: Sharp and stabbing pain when you chew or bite down is a sign of infection that may require a root canal
- Sensitivity: Sensitivity to hot and cold that continues even after the hot and cold stimulus is removed can mean infection beyond simple tooth decay
- Changes to gums: The appearance of a small bump on the gums near the base of the tooth can be an abscess, a condition that can lead to a root canal
- Swelling and tenderness: Gum swelling and tenderness that persists is a sign of infection, especially when accompanied by other symptoms
- Darkened tooth
People suffering from periodontal disease or tooth abscess may need this procedure. Other conditions that may prompt a root canal include:
Does a root canal hurt?
Chances are good that the condition that prompted the root canal hurts more than the procedure itself will. An infected tooth can be very painful and sensitive to hot and cold. Root canal is the treatment for this pain, and the procedure itself is generally much less painful.
Working with a good dentist can make all the difference. Some people avoid treating their tooth pain due to anxiety about visiting the dentist. A good dentist can help answer all of your questions and provide many options for pain relief before, during, and after the procedure.
If you experience anxiety about dental procedures, the first of your root canal treatment steps may include a mild sedative to take before you sit in the dentist’s chair. This can help you to relax and feel less anxious during the procedure.
Once you get to the dentist, they will begin the root canal procedure by thoroughly numbing the area being worked on. They may provide you with nitrous oxide to further relax you, but it may not be necessary. An injectable numbing agent, usually lidocaine, is administered to numb the gums surrounding the tooth receiving the treatment.
What are root canal treatment steps?
When the area is completely numb, your dentist will begin to drill out the infected, diseased, or necrotic tissue. You should not feel any pain during this process, but you will still feel pressure and hear the sound of the drill.
After the tooth’s infected dentin is removed, your dentist will clean and shape the tooth cavity with straight-pin shaped root canal files. These files come in varying lengths and thicknesses, and your dentist knows which to use to achieve the proper result. The goal is to remove only the infected pulp and to reshape each root canal to be filled and sealed properly. Your dentist will preserve as much of your natural tooth as possible. When the tooth cavity is cleaned and filed, your dentist will flush the tooth cavity with water to remove debris. They may also use medicaments to prevent infection.
Finally, your tooth is ready to be filled and sealed. In most cases, a filling can be placed right away. To fill each area, your dentist uses a rubber compound shaped into cones called gutta percha. Each gutta percha is the same shape as the root canal file. These will be covered w