What exactly is a root canal?

Young woman leaning against wall smiling with white teethA root canal is a specific treatment that falls under the umbrella of endodontics. Your teeth are all filled with a soft pulp. Endodontists receive additional training after attending regular dental school to address the issues, infections, and overall health of that soft pulp.

When the soft pulp within a tooth becomes infected, we may recommend root canal treatment to address the problem. Root canal treatment is the best way to save your tooth and avoid tooth extraction. Overall, we remain focused on saving your natural teeth. They are your best option for a healthy mouth.

During a root canal, we first examine the area. We may take an x-ray to determine the extent of the infection. Afterward, we numb the area using topical anesthetic and local anesthetic to ensure your comfort throughout the treatment. Next, we make a tiny hole in the surface of the tooth so we can reach the infected pulp. Once we clear out the infection, we fill the resulting chamber with medicated dental material to ward off further issues. It is likely that we will ask you to return for another appointment after your root canal so we can check on how you are doing and attach a customized crown to protect your tooth.

How painful is a root canal?

Many people who have never experienced a root canal shudder if those two words are ever uttered in their presence. What’s true is that root canals have a bad reputation of being painful — even torturous — dental procedures. However, that is a misconception. It’s false that root canals are any more painful than simple fillings and other treatments.

What is painful, however, is the infection that necessitates a root canal. Left unchecked, the pain of the inflammation or infection of your tooth’s pulp can cause pounding, unbearable pain that radiates along your jaw, face, and head.

Root canals relieve that pain, removing the infected pulp, medicating the pulp chamber, filling the space, and protecting the tooth with a crown. Afterward, any lingering soreness can generally be managed by over-the-counter pain relief medication. You also may feel more comfortable resting after the procedure, eating softer foods for a few days, or chewing on the other side of your mouth until you feel 100 percent again.

What are some signs that I might need a root canal?

A dentist is the only person who can determine whether you need a root canal. However, some signs that you may want to schedule an appointment include:

  • Severe tooth pain
  • Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
  • Discoloration of the tooth
  • Swelling and tenderness in gums
  • Pimple on the gum

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