An estimated fifteen million root canals are performed annually in the United States, making the process of getting a root canal an increasingly common procedure. Patients that experience intense tooth sensitivity and pain may require a root canal procedure and should make an appointment to see their dentist as soon as possible. Failing to do so could result in a higher level of pain, discomfort, expense, and could possibly lead to the complete loss of a tooth.
By understanding the conditions that necessitate a root canal, symptoms of a problem, and how the process works, patients can be better equipped to monitor and safeguard their oral health, along with their dental professional.
What Is A Root Canal?
A root canal is a procedure performed by a dentist that is intended to stop the growth of and to eliminate bacteria in a patient’s infected tooth root.
The time required for a root canal generally differs based on each patient’s unique circumstances. Many root canals can be completed in one day, but others may require additional visits, particularly if there is severe infection associated with that tooth.
Who Needs A Root Canal?
Many patients are aware of the pain associated with needing a root canal before they go to the dentist. However, if identified early through a routine dental checkup, many dentists are able to recommend a root canal before the patient begins experiencing pain. A large portion of root canals can be related to existing conditions in a patient, such as:
- A deep cavity
- Problems with a filling
- Cracked teeth
There are several oral symptoms that can indicate the need for a root canal. It is important to note that some of these symptoms could also indicate other serious oral conditions, making an accurate diagnosis by a dental professional is the key in providing pain relief.
Symptoms that may indicate a root canal is needed can include:
- Tooth pain, usually associated with biting and chewing
- Tooth sensitivity that tends to linger when exposed to hot and cold
- A cracked or chipped tooth
- Gum discomfort including tenderness and swelling
- Discoloration of the gums
How A Root Canal Works
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, it can be a good idea to make an appointment with your dentist right away. At your visit, expect the dentist to visually examine the oral cavity and the tooth or teeth in question, as well as take an x-ray to look for any presence of an infection in the surrounding bone. Depending on the outcome of these examinations, the dentist will then make a recommendation on the next step.
For those patients who do find that a root canal is needed, they can generally expect the following:
- Administration of local anesthesia. This allows dentists to numb the affected area of a patient’s mouth to minimize feelings of pain during the procedure and for several hours after.
- Pulp removal. The dentist will likely use a specialized dental drill to bore a hole into the tooth. This access point enables them to clear out pulp, bacteria, decayed nerve tissue, and any other debris from the tooth.
- Clean up. The tooth is thoroughly cleaned to prevent any further infection, filled with a special compound, and is then sealed. In some cases, a severely infected tooth may require special medication.
- Restoration. It is possible that some teeth could be closed with a filling, most of the time it is recommended to place a crown on the tooth as it often becomes more fragile as it is not a live tooth anymore.
Root canal procedures generally have a high success rate of approximately ninety-five percent. While root canals are not guaranteed to last a lifetime, with proper care many do.
Benefits Of Getting A Root Canal
When a dentist recommends that a patient get a root canal, it is typically done to save the individual from:
- future pain
- loss of the tooth
In addition, the act of saving the original tooth itself may yield benefits of its own such as pain free biting and chewing and a tooth’s more natural appearance. That said, if a crown is needed to protect the natural tooth, a dental practice is typically able to make them look close in appearance to the natural teeth surrounding it.
The average recovery from a root canal generally includes partial numbness of the mouth for several hours post procedure. While it is recommended that patients do not eat or drink until the numbness wears off, most individuals can typically return to their daily routine the day following the procedure.
Some patients erroneously think that tooth pain will go away on its own and that by postponing a root canal they will save money. Although this could save a patient money in the short term, this decision can often end up costing them in the long run as deteriorating conditions may require even more extensive oral procedures that will likely cost more than the original root canal procedure they opted out of.
After The Root Canal Procedure
Once a patient has undergone a root canal procedure, the restored tooth may last years or, in some cases, a lifetime. Since cavities can be one of the reasons a root canal is needed, one of the best things a patient can do to take care of their current root canal and prevent against future ones is to practice good oral hygiene.
Rules of oral hygiene that patients can abide by include:
- Brushing teeth twice daily, at morning and night
- Flossing daily
- Reducing intake of sugary foods and sweetened drinks
- Seeing a dentist for regular checkups, usually every six months unless the patient experiences discomfort or suspects a problem