If your dentist has told you that you need a root canal, it probably was not welcome news! However, root canals can end up saving you a lot of pain, time, and trouble in the future. And, despite their horrible reputation, with modern techniques, most people who have had one recently find that it is a much more comfortable experience than what they expected.
What is a root canal?
Your teeth aren’t just made up of that tough, bonelike material. Inside, there is a whole network of nerves, blood vessels and roots, all within a soft pulp. If you have had an accident or an injury, if your tooth has been chipped or cracked and left unrepaired, or if you have a cavity that hasn’t been fixed, bacteria can get into the tooth and start to multiply, leading the pulp becoming infected.
As this infection gets worse, it spreads to the roots of the tooth. This can lead to pain and sensitivity, and, even worse, to the creation of small pockets of pus, which can lead to an abscess. This infection doesn’t just affect the mouth; it can cause swelling in the neck, face or head, and it can lead to bone loss around the tooth.
A root canal cleans out this infected pulp, which stops the spread of any infection and saves the tooth from having to be extracted.
What does a root canal procedure involve?
A root canal can be done in one visit, or it might take as many as three visits.
First, your dentist will give you a local anesthetic to numb the area. During the first visit, doctor will drill a small hole through the top of the tooth and into the inner chamber. He will remove the diseased tissue, clean and disinfect the inner chamber, and reshape the tiny canals in the tooth. Then, he will fill the tooth with an elastic material and some medication to prevent infection. He may use a temporary filling to block the hole until a permanent crown can be made.
How do I know if I need a root canal?
You might need a root canal if you:
- Have a tooth that is a dark color, like grey, dark brown or dark yellow
- Have swollen and tender gums
- Have severe pain when you chew
- Are very sensitive to hot or cold food and drink. This sensitivity remains even when the hot or cold item has been removed.
Root canal recovery and aftercare
Most patients who have had a root canal are back to their regular activities the next day. Your gums will be a little sore and you will probably want to chew on the other side of your mouth for a couple of days. You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever if the pain is bothering you.
Because doctor will put a permanent crown over the tooth that has had the root canal, no one will even be able to tell that you’ve had work done. If the tooth was discolored before the root canal (sometimes they can become discolored after a root canal), your dentist may talk to you about how to whiten the tooth so it looks more natural. This may mean applying a whitening solution to the inside of the tooth or putting a veneer on your tooth.
Root canals last a lifetime. As with all of your teeth, you should take good care of the tooth that has had the root canal, by brushing, flossing and visiting doctor twice a year!
You may not be looking forward to a root canal, but it is a procedure that serves an important purpose. If you need a root canal but don’t get one, it can lead to problems that are more serious and can require even more dental work, costing you time and money. A root canal can save your tooth from having to be extracted, and can save you from having to get a false tooth. And, a root canal provides you relief from pain (which will only get worse without the procedure!). You will be back to eating your favorite foods in no time, and, eventually, you will be happy you got that root canal done!