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There are many myths and misconceptions about root canal surgery. Dental technology has advanced in recent years, giving you many treatment options that save the natural tooth rather than getting the tooth extracted. Root Canal surgery preserves the natural tooth while restricting the pain that an inflamed root canal can cause. According to The American Society of Endodontists, “people who are given root canal surgery are six times more likely to describe it as painless than those who get their teeth extracted.” Endodontists registered with The American Society of Endodontists on average carry out twenty-five root canal procedures a week so can speak with expertise and authority on the matter.

What is a Root Canal?

If you imagine your teeth like icebergs, the root is the large piece under the water’s surface that makes up the majority of the structure. The root extends into the gum and holds the tooth in place. Every tooth in your mouth has a root or roots, and every root has at least one root canal. A root canal is the passageway that the root sits within. The canal is created from a mixture of pulp, nerve endings, and blood vessels. The root canal is the connecting cavity between the tooth, the gum, and the jaw bone.

Why Do You Need A Root Canal Procedure?

If a root canal on any tooth becomes infected or inflamed, you will begin to feel pain around this tooth or jawline. If left untreated, the pain can intensify and grow, causing the tooth to decay, turning yellow or black. The infection can also continue to spread to other parts of the body. The only alternative treatment to root canal procedure is tooth extraction, which is generally regarded as more painful. It is also detrimental as the tooth will need to be replaced, and this can be costly. Dentists will advise, wherever possible, to keep a healthy tooth intact as this has added health benefits instead of replacing the tooth with a synthetic alternative.

A dentist will recommend a root canal procedure after examining a tooth. If you have any of the following symptoms, it is recommended you get a dentist to assess whether a root canal procedure is necessary.

  • Pain in the tooth that can come and go throughout a day
  • An abscess appearing in the tooth or gums
  • A small lump on the gum underneath a tooth
  • If there is a pain when you chew on food with a particular tooth
  • If there is a pain when you touch your tooth with a finger or your tongue
  • An extreme sensitivity within the mouth to either hold or cold sensations
  • If you notice one tooth beginning to change color
  • If your gums begin to swell
  • If any tooth is noticeably chipped or cracked in any way.

While these are common symptoms of a root canal infection, there are other causes for these symptoms, so it is always essential to get your teeth inspected by a dental specialist. A dentist may need to analyze with x-rays or visual inspections to assess whether a root canal shows any signs of infection.

If you are lucky, a dentist may notice a root canal infection during a regular check-up before you feel any pain. It is still recommended root canal treatment is undertaken if there is any sign of infection regardless of pain as pain can develop, and symptoms can worsen at any time.

What causes a tooth to get infected?

A tooth can become infected or inflamed for a variety of reasons. While poor dental hygiene is a factor that can cause root canal infections, it is not the only possible cause, so you do not need to feel alarmed or embarrassed by the need for a root canal procedure. Dental trauma can come through any kind of accident that damages a tooth’s enamel, exposing the root canal’s pulp to unhealthy infectious bacteria. The tooth may be cracked or chipped, but there does not need to be visible signs of damage for root canal infections to occur. Sometimes, even repeated treatments on a tooth may unintentionally expose a root canal.

If the pulp within a root canal is exposed to bacteria, it can become infected, inflamed and in some cases, the pulp can die, slowly causing the tooth to rot.

What is the root canal procedure?

A root canal procedure is a treatment regime that removes any infected pulp and replaces it with dental material, ensuring the root canal is bacteria free and protected from further bacterial damage. The procedure is undertaken to save and maintain the health of the affected tooth.

A procedure can take one or two appointments, depending on the severity of the infection and the intricacy of the treatment required. After the dentist has assessed the need for the procedure, commonly with an X-ray, The procedure then follows a standard set of steps:

  1. The dental specialist will use local anesthesia to numb the surrounding area to reduce any pain felt by the patient. If local anesthesia is not possible, general sedation may be offered.
  2. The dentist will isolate the infected tooth, and a small hole will be drilled into the tooth, given access to the root canal’s pulp chamber.
  3. The cavity will be cleared of any infected pulp, and any dead tissue will be removed. The area will be disinfected to ensure bacteria is not left inside your tooth. Occasionally medication will also be placed inside the cavity to ensure the infection is ceased.
  4. The cavity will then be filled and sealed with a material that is completely safe and biocompatible.

The tooth may need to be restored with a crown or a filling after the treatment is complete.

How Painful Is A Root Canal Procedure?

Root canal procedures are major dental treatment, and therefore it does come with a level of discomfort. The pain is comparable to the discomfort felt after a tooth filling. As the anesthesia wears off, there will be a general feeling of slight pain. However, this should not endure for a long time and should subside after only a few days. Over-the-counter painkillers can manage most pains felt after the procedure.

However, the pain felt by a root canal procedure is much more preferable to the pain caused by the tooth being left untreated or having to be extracted. Untreated infected root canals can cause crippling pain, and often the procedure removes pain rather than causes it. Excruciating infected root canals can be so painful if left untreated that it can become almost impossible to eat or drink without debilitating agony. A root canal procedure is, therefore, a minor impairment compared to the potential of the alternative.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

A root canal procedure can take on average between thirty to ninety minutes. While this may seem like a large window, every procedure is unique. Several factors have to be taken into consideration when assessing how long a procedure might take.

  • The size and severity of the infection
  • The number of roots a tooth may have (molars can have up to four roots while incisors only have one)
  • The position of your tooth within the mouth
  • Your ability to sit with your mouth open for extended periods
  • Whether the tooth needs a filling or a dental crown after the treatment
  • The anatomy of the root

All of these factors will be taken into account, and all timings given will be an estimate based on the dental experience. If follow-up treatment is required, the dentist will let you know as soon as possible.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From A Root Canal Procedure?

The advancements in dental technology have resulted in the time taken to recover from a procedure to be reduced dramatically. While the pain should only last a few days, you should observe careful dental aftercare to fully ensure the treated tooth recovers. Do not chew with the tooth until a permanent filling or crown is in place, as it will be fragile. Try to avoid particularly chewy or harder foods for a few days after your procedure. It is advisable to keep regularly cleaning your teeth with toothpaste and flossing as you would normally.

Suppose pain continues to persist or is particularly severe and manageable with pain relief medication. In that case, you must seek dental advice to ensure the root canal procedure has not been compromised, and any further treatment can be undertaken quickly.

If you have any concerns about a root canal procedure, talk to your dentist, and ask questions. An excellent dental specialist will be used to talking through the procedure and treating anxious patients. As a patient, the dentist will want you to feel safe and comfortable before undertaking any treatment procedure. Root canal procedures are performed thousands of times on a daily basis across the world. While they can be a complicated procedure, they are familiar and have a very high success rate, resulting in less long-term pain for the patient.