What is a Root Canal?

If you have heard other people talk about a root canal, you probably have an opinion about it. A root canal is an experience that historically has been said to be painful and expensive. With this kind of information all around, it’s easy to see why people might be a bit fearful about the procedure. Here, we will debunk some of the outdated fears about root canals for you, give you a detailed analysis of the steps involved in the procedure and tell you what you should expect.

What is a Root Canal?

dentist performing root canalEssentially, the root canal is a part of a tooth. Typically, the root canal comprises the hollow section of your tooth that contains all the blood vessels, nerve tissues, and other cells. Normally, a tooth comprises a crown and a root or roots. The crown is the part of a tooth that we see above the gum, while the roots are below the gum to help the tooth stay in position.

Additionally, the root attaches your tooth to your jawbone. The root canal is located somewhere inside the crown and root of a tooth. Typically, the pulp –also known as the root canal – helps provide moisture and nourishment to the tooth. When the nerves in the canal get exposed to either heat or cold, you experience pain.

So, if the root canal is technically a part of the tooth, what is the name of the procedure or treatment? The name of the dental procedure we commonly refer to as a ‘root canal’ is actually endodontic therapy. Essentially, this means it is an ‘inside of the tooth’ treatment. However, to make things easier to remember, it’s become common to simply use the term ‘root canal’ interchangeably.

What causes a root canal?

In most cases, you will need endodontic therapy performed if the pulp of your tooth is infected, injured, or inflamed. Now, the upper part of your tooth – also called the crown – can remain intact and functional even with dead pulp inside. Therefore, if you have some excruciating pain and you need to keep your tooth in place, removing the infected or injured pulp is the best route to take. Typically, you would require a root canal following one of the following situations:

  • An untreated cavity that leads to deep decay
  • After receiving multiple dental procedures on the same tooth
  • Cracks in the tooth or chipping on the crown
  • Tooth injury. If you get hit in the mouth, your pulp might get injured even if no breakage or cracking is visible on the crown.

What Are the Telltale Signs of Damaged Pulp?

If your pulp is damaged, injured, or infected, the most common symptoms you will experience include:

  • Painful sensations in your tooth
  • Swelling of the gums
  • Increased sensitivity, even to mild temperatures
  • The sensation of heat around the tooth

The Root Canal Procedure

Normally, the root canal is performed in a dental clinic or office. When you go for the procedure, a dental technician will guide you to the treatment room. Once you get settled in, the steps are as follows.

  1. Administration of an Anesthetic

Before the doctor can start the procedure, they must numb the gum around the tooth with a local anesthetic to ensure the procedure is comfortable. During this particular procedure, you may experience some burning sensation or pain that fades very quickly. In most cases, you will remain fully awake during the procedure, but the anesthetic will prevent you from feeling any pain.

  1. Removing the Pulp

Once your tooth is numb, the dentist will make an opening in your tooth. This will help in exposing the infected, damaged, or injured pulp. At this point the dentist will remove the offending pulp. Particular attention is paid towards completely clearing all the pathways – the canals – in the tooth.

  1. Administration of Antibiotics

Antibiotics are administered prior to the procedure to prevent the possibility of reinfection or a new infection. Additionally, the dentist will also prescribe antibiotics following the procedure to further ward off possible infections.

  1. Filling and Sealing

Since the opening on your tooth can damage the canals using saliva, the dentist will seal the opening made during the operation with a temporary material. Typically, they use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha to seal the tooth. Gutta-percha is similar to rubber, but it creates a permanent seal that prevents fluid and bacteria from entering the tooth and reaching the roots. Once filled, the root canal’s opening is closed with a filling or a dental crown.

Is It Risky or Painful?

In extremely rare cases a root canal can lead to tooth loss if performed on an extensively damaged tooth. Additionally, if the antibiotics administered are not effective, you might develop some abscesses in the root of your tooth. However, there is a general fear that the root canal is painful. If a trained oral surgeon carries out your procedure, you can be confident that it will be comfortable and pain-free.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

Depending on the extent of damage and complexity of your procedure, a root canal will typically take between 60 minutes and 90 minutes. Complex procedures may, however, require a longer time frame.

Are There Alternatives to Root Canal?

Other alternatives to root canal include:

What Is the Recovery Period for A Root Canal?

Recovery from a root canal takes a few days. Within a week, you will be ready to partake in your normal routines. However, if the tooth is not yet permanently sealed, you should avoid chewing with the affected tooth.

A root canal can be an amazing procedure in the right circumstances when you need to preserve your tooth. If, however, your tooth is extensively damaged, you may need to seek other alternatives. If you live in the greater Lansing area and have questions about root canals, give us a call or fill out our contact form and we’ll set up a time to discuss your situation.

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