What to Know About Root Canal Treatment

If you have never had root canal treatment but your dentist has recommended one, you probably have a lot of questions. While root canal therapy can seem overwhelming, it is actually a common procedure that many dentists perform on a regular basis.

Check out these commonly asked questions to learn what you need to know about root canal therapy.

Is Root Canal Therapy Necessary?

Root canal therapy is performed when a tooth nerve, also known as the pulp, becomes irreversibly inflamed, dies, or develops an abscess.

But this is not the only treatment option available. If you cannot afford, or do not want, the treatment, you may have the tooth extracted. Removal of the tooth will remove the source of the infection, but this treatment also leaves an empty space.  Tooth loss can affect your bite, function, and the aesthetics of your smile.

The options for replacing the missing tooth are usually an implant or bridge. These options will typically require more visits and still cost as much as or more than keeping your natural tooth. Root canal therapy is a way to remove the source of the infection while preserving the tooth.

What Happens During Root Canal Therapy?

During treatment, it is important to isolate the tooth, so the dentist will use a rubber dam. The rubber dam is a safety feature to keep the dentist’s instruments in the appropriate area. It also prevents you from tasting any of the solutions used to help disinfect the inside of the tooth.

The dentist makes an access hole into the pulp space of the tooth. This is usually done through the top of back teeth or from the tongue side of front teeth. Through this access, the pulp tissue is removed. During the procedure, the dentist uses a series of dental instruments and solutions to clean and disinfect all of the pulp space in the tooth. The dentist performs this treatment on all the tooth’s canals, which extend to, or near to, the tip of the tooth’s root.

If a tooth getting root canal therapy has significant infection, the dentist may leave the tooth open for a period of time to allow drainage. If there is concern for residual infection, the dentist places a medication in the canal space to aide in disinfection. This material will be left in for a week or more. During this time, a temporary filling is placed in the access space. This temporary filling is removed and replaced at the next appointment when the root canal therapy is completed.

After the dentist has cleaned all the roots and removed the infection, they obdurate, or plug, the  canal space with a rubber-based material called gutta-percha. Once the canal space is closed, the dentist places a filling in the crown of the tooth. If the tooth does not already have a crown, the dentist will recommended one to help prevent the tooth from breaking.

Does Root Canal Treatment Hurt?

Root canal therapy has a bad reputation for being uncomfortable. However, the discomfort of a root canal occurs mainly because of the severe infection in the tooth or a badly inflamed nerve. Both of these situations make it difficult to numb the area for the procedure.

On the positive side, once the infection or inflamed pulp is removed, root canal therapy will usually only result in minor postoperative discomfort. Most of this pain stems from a ligament between the outside of the tooth and the bone that supports the tooth becoming inflamed. Taking anti-inflammatory medication before and after treatment can greatly reduce this discomfort.

If you are still nervous, ask your dentist about relaxation adjuncts to take before and during treatment to help calm your nerves.

Will My Dentist Prescribe Medications?

Your dentist may prescribe a narcotic pain killer for pain management. They may also recommend that you use over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, to manage the pain. In many instances, over-the-counter pain medications are all that is required to keep you comfortable.

In cases where infection was a big part of the preoperative symptoms, your dentist will prescribe antibiotics before or after the procedure. In fact, antibiotics may offer more relief than pain medication because they help to relieve the pressure from the infection.

Can a Treated Tooth Get Re-Infected?

Most root canal treatments go well. However, if a piece of affected tissue or infection is missed during the procedure, retreatment may be necessary.

Infection may also return if you have damage to the tooth roots, such as small cracks down the long axis of the root. If a tooth root develops a fracture, the tooth will become infected and the tooth will need to be removed. Potential problems like this are why dentists recommend crowns after root canal therapy. The crown helps keep the top of the tooth from breaking and helps prevent the root from fracturing.

If retreatment does not work or your dentist believes the tooth is not a good candidate for retreatment, your dentist will likely recommend extracting the tooth. However, remember that in most patients, root canal therapy is successful.

Root canal therapy can save your tooth. It protects your smile, your teeth’s function, and your wallet. With the proper post root canal restorative procedure, your tooth should remain strong. If you are worried about the procedure, talk to your dentist about relaxation options.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today at Silverstone Family Dental.