Root canal therapy gives your dentist a tool to save your damaged or infected tooth or teeth. Root canal treatment involves removing the pulp tissues of the affected tooth.
The dental pulp is in the center of our teeth below the enamel and dentin layers. Dental pulp consists of blood vessels, nerve tissue, and connective tissues. Essentially a dental infection will cause this pulp tissue to no longer be vital and it needs to be removed to save the tooth. Once the infected pulp tissue is removed, your dentist will fill the roots with a man made material that will seal the roots closed.
Once the roots are filled and sealed most teeth that undergo root canal therapy will require a dental crown for increased protection. A root canal treatment can be completed in 1-2 dental visits. A dental infection may need to be treated first which will cause an extra visit to complete the root canal.
A root canal procedure should not be painful. Your dentist will use local anesthesia to ensure your comfort. The only time root canal therapy will be painful is when a large dental infection is present. The dental infection will actually make it difficult to get the area numb properly.
If you have just recently had a root canal procedure, it is recommended to take follow certain instructions to maintain a healthy mouth and ensure faster healing with minimal discomfort.
Root Canal Procedure
- –Take an X-ray if one has not already been taken. This will give your dentist a chance to evaluate the anatomy and shape of the tooth’s canals. It can also show the presence of a dental infection.
- –Anesthetic. Your dentist will use a local anesthetic to numb the surrounding areas to give you pain relief and also allow the procedure to be completed pain free. Some patients do not require any anesthetic but it will make it more comfortable.
- –Cleaning Of Tooth Canals. Tiny instruments are used to slowly clean out and debride bacteria, decayed nerve tissues, and bacteria from inside the tooth’s canals. Sterile water, peroxide, or sodium hypochlorite are used periodically to flush away the debris and kill any bacteria present.
- –Filling of Canals. Each canal is filled to the end of the tooth with a rubbery compound called gutta percha and permanently sealed. The process essentially is like a cork to prevent bacteria and fluid from re-entering the tooth, and keep it sterile. Many dentists prefer to wait a week or so before sealing the tooth. This will give the inflammation that has developed a chance to decrease back to normal levels. Others prefer to seal the tooth the same day it is cleaned out. If the root canal is not completed on the same day, a temporary filling is placed to keep out contaminants like saliva and food until the next dental appointment.
Following treatment, your tooth may feel sensitive for a few days to a week. This is especially true if there was pain or dental infection before the procedure. This discomfort can be relieved with over the counter or prescription pain medications or an antibiotic may be necessary if an infection was present. Follow directions given to you very carefully and feel free to ask your dentist questions if an issue comes up.
Your tooth may continue to feel slightly different from your other teeth for some time after your root canal treatment is completed. However, if you have severe pain or pressure or pain that lasts more than a few days, call your dentist immediately.
- –Restoration of Tooth. Generally but not always a tooth that needs a root canal often is one that already has a large dental restoration or extensive tooth decay. Even when tooth decay was not a factor, the tooth treated with a root canal is weaker than a “live” tooth. Therefore, a crown, crown and post, or other extensive dental restoration often needs to be placed on the tooth to protect it, prevent it from breaking, and restore it back to full function again.
After a completed dental restoration, you will not be able to notice any difference in its function or form or feel. You and your dentist will discuss this need further and make an informed decision together the best course of action for your dental care.
What Can I Eat Following a Root Canal?
This is one of the most common questions asked by patients. As with most dental treatment where local anesthesia is necessary, you should wait until the anesthetic wears off fully. This is to prevent you from biting your lips, cheeks, or tongue.
When the anesthetic is gone, you can go ahead and eat. It is recommended that you avoid hard, crunchy foods until your tooth treatment is completed with a dental crown. So soft cereals, sandwiches, smoothies, and yogurt are probably good places to start eating.
When a root canal is completed your dentist will generally place a temporary filling inside the tooth. So it is important to not lose that filling, so it is advisable to chew on the other side if possible until the tooth is treated with a permanent restoration.
Relieving Discomfort After a Root Canal
Majority of patients feel minimal pain or discomfort following completion of root canal therapy. On occasion, some patients will experience minor discomfort due to the ligaments surrounding the tooth. This will generally be noticeable when chewing or biting down. Depending on the presence of dental infection these ligaments can become inflamed. Usually simple over the counter pain relievers like tylenol should resolve this issue.
For some, the pain can be more intense. If this occurs to you see your dentist as soon as possible. The dentist can reduce the height of the tooth so you are not biting down on it.
Other dental situations that you should place a call to your dentist include:
- Any return of the original symptoms.
- Your bite does not feel right.
- Any possible allergic reaction to prescribed medications.
- A temporary filling falls out.
- A prolonged period of pain.
You may notice a slight bubble in the gum tissue and unevenness around the treated tooth, these symptoms are quite normal and should gradually wear off as you continue to heal.
Preventive Care Following Treatment
While recovering, you should continue to maintain regular dental hygiene. This will include brushing and flossing and use of antiseptic mouthwash. Moving forward into the future it is important to maintain regular dental care including routine dental examinations and regular dental cleanings.
Once the root canal therapy is completed, a final dental restoration will be placed. In some cases it can be a simple dental bonding treatment or it may need a dental crown. A lot depends on the amount of damage that has occurred to the tooth. Both restorations will look very natural just like your surrounding teeth. It is important to note that while root canal therapy has an over 90% long term success rate they can fail and may need retreatment. Preventive care is important to ensure success.
Your tooth will be tender following root canal therapy so you should avoid putting excessive pressure on the affected natural tooth through clenching your jaw. A night guard may be helpful to keep your upper and lower teeth apart while you sleep. If your dentist prescribed antibiotics after a root canal, make sure you take them as directed and to completion, to avoid the risk of re-infection.
Root canal treatment is actually a relatively simple dental procedure and the recovery process is generally without complication. However, if you have any problems or concerns following a root canal do not hesitate to call your dentist.
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