Many people become anxious if they need dental treatment other than routine care. One type of dental treatment that many people do not look forward to is a root canal, also known as endodontic therapy. There is really no reason to be apprehensive! In fact, a root canal is a common treatment designed to save an infected tooth and restore your comfort. Endodontic therapy allows you to preserve your natural tooth instead of the alternative treatment which is a tooth extraction.
In fact, several patients we have treated at Padden Dental have even fallen asleep during the procedure! When the tooth is numbed and the treatment gets started a root canal is a fairly quiet dental procedure. It is no wonder that many of our patients sneak in some nap time once we have started relieving the source of their discomfort. You have probably heard that the anticipation of a procedure is usually far worse than actually having it done. Knowing ahead of time what a root canal is and what to expect is a great way to relieve any anxiety you may have. Here is the information you need to understand what is a root canal, who needs one, what treatment looks like, and more.
What Is a Root Canal or Endodontic Therapy?
When a tooth is traumatized in some way the nerve can become damaged or even die. The problem occurs inside the center of the tooth where the nerve/pulp is located. This can be expected when a tooth is injured and not treated, or when dental checkups and care are neglected. Bacteria can allow an infection to develop and cause damage to the pulp and the surrounding bone.
Endodontic therapy may be necessary as a result of:
- A cracked or chipped tooth
- A deep cavity
- Frequent dental procedures on a tooth
- Other trauma to a tooth
Even when an injury produces no visible damage to the tooth, the pulp can still be injured. In some cases, deep cracks can form beneath dental fillings. These cracks do not show up on a dental x-ray but allow bacteria to penetrate into the nerve. Likewise, an untreated cavity gradually becomes deeper and more difficult to treat with only a filling. In either case, trauma allows pressure to build up inside the tooth and cause pain.
Symptoms to Look Out For
It is common that the affected tooth becomes increasingly sensitive to hot and cold drinks/food or when you bite down and chew. There may be lingering sensitivity or an ache. You may experience a constant ache or pain that radiates to other parts of the jaw. Sometimes an abscess forms as a way for your body to try and drain the infection. This may present as swelling or look like a pimple on the gums near the tooth.
How do you know for sure if you need endodontic therapy? The best option is to set up a consultation with us if you develop a toothache, swollen gums, swelling around the neck and face, or sensitivity to hot and cold.
What to Expect During Treatment
Treatment involves removing the pulp, thoroughly cleaning the canals, and applying medication before sealing the tooth. This prepares the tooth for a restoration which is usually a crown. A crown seals and protects the tooth 360 degrees and prevents risk of future tooth fracture.
In most cases, endodontic therapy can be accomplished in one or two visits to the dentist. First, a set of x-rays is taken to determine the shape of the root canal and to determine if an infection is present in the bone surrounding the tooth. Next, a local anesthetic is given to numb the area and control pain. If the tooth is abscessed, however, the extent of the infection may not allow anesthetics to properly numb the area. In these cases, an antibiotic may be prescribed to take for a few days before starting endodontic therapy. During the procedure, damaged tissue and pulp are removed and the area is irrigated with a solution that helps prevent infections in the tissues and allows the area to heal.
When the tooth is disinfected, the dentist either seals it or may instead place medication inside the tooth to treat any infection that is already present. If the procedure is not completed during this visit, a temporary filling is placed in the tooth to allow the infection to clear up and to prevent food or saliva from contaminating it. Sometimes a longstanding infection can cause the tooth nerve canals to calcify or harden and make them more difficult to clean. In these cases the root canal may be completed over two appointments, or you may receive a referral to an Endodontist (root canal specialist).
Is It Painful?
In the past, root canal treatments did have a reputation for being painful. However, with the advances in dentistry today and the effectiveness of local anesthetics, the pain should be minimal. Many people actually compare the treatment to having a dental filling, just as a slightly longer appointment. Some people will even fall asleep since the procedure itself is not very noisy. After the procedure is completed you can return to regular activities the next day. By having this treatment you are able to maintain the affected tooth instead of the alternative of having the tooth extracted.
What to Expect After Treatment
Your tooth and the surrounding gum tissue/bone may be tender for several days. This is the result of the initial infection and manipulation in the area while disinfecting the tooth. You can expect your tooth to be sore for about 3-5 days but every patient is different and there are varying levels of discomfort. Some patients may even have discomfort for longer than a week. If you feel any sensitivity in the tooth, it is likely due to inflamed tissue from any infection that developed before you had the procedure. Please make sure to continue to brush and floss the area normally.
To control the discomfort you may take an anti-inflammatory pain medication like Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or Naproxen (Aleve). It is recommended that you continue to take medication, whether you have pain or no pain, for 3 days after the procedure. By staying proactive and ahead of any discomfort it will keep your discomfort to a minimum. Antibiotics are not always necessary after endodontic therapy and your dentist will determine whether they are needed.
If you have had any of the symptoms we described in this article we would like to help. Contact us for an appointment online, or call us at (360) 213-1999, and we will be happy to give you a personal evaluation!