What’s a Root Canal and When Are They Necessary?

Just hearing those two words often evokes a feeling of dread in patients sitting in a dental chair: root canal. Specifically, you need a root canal. Let's face it: root canals have a reputation for being painful, long-lasting procedures. But are they really as bad as they're made out to be or do they just get a bad rap? How do you know if you need one? Let's learn a bit more about root canals below.

What is a root canal?

Root canal therapy is typically used to save severely infected or decayed teeth. The nerve and pulp of the teeth can become damaged due to a variety of factors, including deep decay, large fillings, trauma to the face, and cracks in the teeth. The procedure itself involves removing the nerve and pulp-- the soft area in the center of the tooth-- and then cleaning out the inside of it. After cleaning, the tooth is sealed.

Do I need a root canal?

Only your dentist can tell you for sure whether or not a root canal will be needed to fix your particular area of concern. However, some signs that indicate that a root canal might be in order include the following:

  • Pain. Pain is one of the most obvious signs that a root canal is needed. If you experience persistent, severe pain while eating or applying pressure to the tooth, you might need a root canal. Of course, pain can be indicative of a number of other dental concerns too, so it's important to see your dentist to determine what's causing your pain.
  • Sensitivity. If you're experiencing sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks even after the food or drink is removed, a root canal may be in order.
  • Tooth darkening. Is your normally bright smile looking a little darker these days? Tooth discoloration is sometimes an indicator that a root canal is needed.
  • Gum tenderness. Sometimes, the area of the gums surrounding the affected tooth becomes extremely tender and begins to swell, indicating that a root canal is necessary.
  • Gum pimple. Yes, you read that correctly: your gums can get a pimple. If you experience a pimple on your gums that is persistent or recurring, you might need a root canal.

What is the procedure like?

First thing's first: your dentist will take X-rays of your teeth to help determine the depth of the decay. Then, she will apply a local anesthetic to numb the area so that you won't feel pain during the procedure. When it's time to get started, your dentist will begin by making an opening in your tooth and then using tools to clean out the decayed pulp. Upon completion, your dentist will likely use a temporary filling to help protect the affected area, while also allowing any additional material to drain from the tooth.

A few days after your initial procedure, it's time to put the finishing touches on your root canal. Your dentist will place a composite filling in the center of your tooth and then finish it off with a dental crown. The crown helps to protect what remains of the original tooth and also helps to prevent pain.

While root canals have a reputation for being painful, most patients report post-procedure that the pain was tolerable. In fact, many patients say that the pain associated with a root canal is no different than the minimal pain experienced while receiving a regular filling.

Preventing a root canal

Most people would agree that it's more desirable to prevent a root canal in the first place than to undergo the procedure. Maintaining good oral hygiene goes a long towards root canal prevention. This includes brushing your teeth at least twice a day, flossing daily, and using a fluoride mouthwash. Additionally, it's important to visit your dentist every six months for a check-up and professional cleaning. For more information, contact us today.