Possibly one of the most feared procedures in all of dentistry, root canals may also be among the most misunderstood. Despite their reputation as a painful procedure, most patients describe root canals as no more painful than having a filling placed and experience fairly quick recovery times–within a day or so. Root canals fill an important role, allowing your dentist or endodontist to repair and save a damaged tooth. So with all that in mind, when would a root canal be recommended. To answer that, let’s take a look at root canals, how they work, and what they do.
What is a Root Canal?
If a tooth becomes damaged, a cavity can open and work its way into the soft inner pulp of the tooth. This can lead to infection, which causes further damage and may potentially result in tooth loss. In order to prevent this, a dentist or endodontist will act to remove the infected tissue and replace it. This is done by drilling a clean hole into the tooth and physically removing the soft inner pulp and the nerves and blood vessels that run through it. The area is then cleaned with an antibacterial treatment in order to prevent further infections. When that’s done, the now-empty space inside the tooth is filled with a rubbery substance called gutta-percha, and the tooth is then capped and sealed. If all goes well, the result is a tooth that functions normally and only requires regular brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings to care for. It’s a way of saving a natural tooth and avoiding tooth loss and having to deal with a dental prosthesis or implant later on.
Again, root canals cause minimal discomfort to the patient in most cases, and recovery time is generally a day or two. They’re nothing to fear and can do a lot to make your life better.
When Would You Need a Root Canal?
Your dentist will recommend a root canal if the damage to the inner tooth has gotten too bad for any other mode of repair. For patients, there are some symptoms that you may need a root canal. Being aware of these and seeking treatment earlier rather than later can lead to better outcomes overall.
- Pain or swelling in the jaw, gums, face, or neck
- A tooth or teeth that are sensitive to heat and cold, particularly hot or cold food and drink
- A discolored tooth
- A tooth with an obvious hole or abscess in it.
- Consistent and persistent tooth pain, or pain in one particular section of the mouth or jaw
- A pimple or abscess forming on the gums
- A strange taste in the mouth
- A tooth that can wiggle or shift in place.
If you experience any of these persistently, it’s time to contact your dentist right away. They’ll want to perform an exam and likely take some x-rays in order to determine the best course of action. This may be a root canal or some other procedure.
There’s no reason to fear a root canal. It’s a way of saving a tooth and ensuring that your smile continues to last a lifetime. In the hands of an experienced dentist, root canals are generally fairly easy procedures.