Root canal procedure and pain go hand in hand in many people’s minds. Generally, our fears and anxiety stem from others telling us their experiences and not from our own. A root canal procedure (also referred to as RCT or root canal therapy) is a dental procedure where a tooth’s damaged nerve (also called the dental pulp) is removed.
Following removal of the nerve, the canals of the tooth are cleaned and sterilized. Following this cleaning process, the canals are filled and sealed permanently to avoid future dental infections to the affected tooth. If left untreated, the dental condition will affect the tooth and surrounding hard and soft tissues (like gums and bone tissues), and a dental abscess can form in the hard and soft tissue as the infection looks to escape.
The removal of the tooth’s nerve is because these nerves (along with associated blood vessels) in the tooth’s root canals are responsible for providing hydration and nutrients to our teeth. They also give us the ability to sense hot and cold.
Surveys over the years find that root canal therapy is considered the most feared of all dental procedures. These surveys also found people’s views on root canal therapy based on what others have told them and not their own experiences. This belief leads to people mainly believing false stories about root canals. It is the fear of the unknown, as I like to call it.
Why Does Tooth Root Canal Pulp Need to Be Removed?
When a tooth’s pulp (nerve tissue) is damaged, it breaks down, and bacteria begin to multiply within the root canals of an infected tooth. The bacteria and other debris can cause a dental infection or tooth abscess. A tooth abscess is a pus-filled pocket or ball that forms at the end of the roots of the tooth. An abscess happens when the dental infection spreads and into the bone. An infected pulp in the root canal of a tooth can also cause:
- Swelling that can spread easily to other areas of the neck, face, or head
- Severe Pain
- Bone loss where the infection spills into the bone
- Drainage issues extending from the root. A hole can develop through the side of the tooth with drainage into the gingival tissues.
Signs That Root Canal Procedure Is Needed?
If you need root canal treatment, you may notice the following signs:
- Tooth sensitivity that lingers, especially to heat or cold
- Sharp pain when biting or chewing
- Pimples on your gum tissues
- Cracked or chipped teeth
- Swollen or painful gum tissues
- Presence of deep decay or darkened gum tissues
Step By Step Root Canal Treatment
Endodontic treatment can typically be performed in one to two dental visits and includes the following steps:
- The dentist will complete a thorough examination and take an x-ray of the tooth, then administer a local anesthetic in the area of the treated tooth. After the tooth is properly anesthetized, the dentist will sometimes need to place a small protective sheet (“dental dam”) over the area to isolate the tooth. This dental dam will keep the area clean and free of saliva during the root canal treatment.
- The dentist makes a small opening in the crown of the tooth. Very small dental instruments are used to clean the pulp from the pulp chamber and root canals and shape the filling space.
- After the canal is cleaned and shaped, the dentist will fill the root canals with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. This gutta-percha is placed with an adhesive cement to complete the seal of the root canals. In most patients, a temporary filling is placed to close the opening in the tooth. Your dentist will remove the temporary filling before the final dental restoration.
- After completion of root canal treatment, you will return to have a dental crown or other dental restoration placed on the tooth to protect and restore it to full function.
If following completion of the root canal, the tooth is determined to lack sufficient tooth structure to hold the restoration in place, your dentist may need to place a post inside the tooth.
Myths Surrounding Root Canal Treatment
Myth #1 – Root Canal Therapy Is Painful
Root canal treatment does not directly cause pain, and this therapy is designed to relieve it! With modern anesthetics, techniques, and technology, root canal therapy is no more painful than getting a simple filling. The primary cause of root canal therapy pain is the infection that a patient may present with. An infected site will cause extreme pain that can be difficult to get under control initially.
Your dentist will make sure you are comfortably anesthetized and relaxed before beginning root canal therapy. Removing the pain-causing infected pulp from your tooth will relieve any pressure built up, causing some of that discomfort. After cleaning infected tissues, your tooth will be sealed closed to keep out any further invading bacteria and repair the enamel of the tooth with a dental filling or a protective dental crown.
Myth #2 – Why Not Just Remove The Tooth?
A well-trained dentist will always use tooth extraction as a “last resort” type of dental treatment. Nothing functions as well as your natural teeth, so tooth preservation is always the best course of treatment whenever possible. Root canal therapy allows you to keep your natural tooth. This treatment prevents you from resorting to other extensive dental treatments, such as dental bridges or dental implants, to help replace the lost tooth and restore your smile.
Myth #3 – Root Canal Treatment Is Only For Teeth Causing Pain
Sometimes a dental infection has become so severe that the tooth dies. You may no longer be feeling any pain, but infection is still present and damaging your underlying bone structure. A lot of the pain and discomfort we feel when a dental infection is present is pressure. A dental infection can sometimes cause a bump in the gum tissue where the infection can leak out, relieving that pressure and allowing it to feel better even though it is not.
Even at this point, root canal treatment can still save the tooth structure itself. This is one of the reasons for routine dental examinations and radiographs. These visits can let us see changes as they happen before they become more significant issues. Regular visits will save you money over the long haul, but sometimes that is hard to understand.
Myth #4 – Root Canal Therapy Takes A Long Time
Most root canal therapy treatment can finish in 1-2 visits. If there is no active, serious dental infection, they can sometimes finish in just one appointment, or you may have to return to complete the dental filling or crown procedure. The condition of your tooth following root canal therapy and the severity of infection dictate the treatment time needed. Sometimes a dental crown is not required but it’s usually recommended as the tooth will become more brittle without the natural nutrients and blood flowing thru the tooth.
Myth #5 – Dental Infections Are Common Following Root Canal Treatments
A re-infection of the tooth root can happen, but it is not very common. If the dental infection returns to the tooth, you will need further dental treatment. Following root canal therapy, the newest dental materials and techniques used to fill a tooth have been specifically designed to significantly reduce the likelihood of developing another dental infection in that tooth. If further endodontic treatment is needed you may be referred to an endodontist (root canal specialist).
Root Canal Therapy Myths Conclusion
Root canal treatment has developed a horrible reputation over the years. Rest assured, with new techniques, and it can be a painless experience. If you are feeling dental anxiety, speak to your dentist, and they can offer you advice on how to best cope.
Contact Marielaina Perrone DDS at (702) 458-2929 to schedule a no-cost cosmetic consultation appointment if you are ready for a smile makeover. We cannot wait to help you with your smile makeover to create the smile of your dreams in Summerlin, Henderson, and Las Vegas, NV.