Root canals are needed whenever damage or infection reaches the pulp (nerve) of a tooth. Also known as endodontic treatment, root canals have a reputation for being unpleasant, but most patients experience very little discomfort during the procedure.
When damage or decay extends to the tooth pulp, it can be quite painful. This is because the pulp is rich with nerve endings and blood vessels, making it particularly sensitive. Infection can spread to surrounding tissues, form abscesses, and even travel elsewhere in the body via the bloodstream, so prompt treatment is needed.
The goal of a root canal is to save your natural tooth and eliminate the need for extraction. When a tooth is extracted, bone loss in the jaw occurs, causing a weakened bite, shifting of adjacent teeth, and undesirable changes to facial structures. Root canals are also much more affordable than dental implants, so they should always be the first line of treatment.
What Happens During a Root Canal?
Prior to your root canal, we will conduct a thorough oral exam and take imaging to help us map the structure of your tooth below the gum line. This also allows us to look for infection inside the tooth and surrounding bone.
Assuming a root canal is needed, we open the tooth and remove the infected pulp. The inside of the tooth is then cleaned and an antimicrobial solution is applied in order to prevent reinfection. The tooth chamber is filled with a rubber-like material to replace the removed pulp, then a dental crown, filling, inlay, or onlay is used to seal the tooth. The needed crown, filling, inlay, or onlay should be done immediately after the root canal to prevent the tooth from fracturing or becoming reinfected with bacteria.
If a crown, inlay, or onlay is needed, we’ll take impressions after the root canal is complete in order to fabricate a restoration that fits your tooth securely. In the meantime, a temporary restoration will be placed to protect the tooth from damage. You’ll return to our office in a few weeks for a second appointment in which the permanent restoration is attached to the treated tooth.
After a root canal, you can expect your tooth to be sensitive and sore for a few days, but cold compresses and over-the-counter pain medications are usually all that is needed to relieve this discomfort. You can return to work or school right away, but it will take a few days before you can return to your normal diet—hard and sticky foods should be avoided a few days after the procedure and as long as you have a temporary restoration in place.