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For many people, there are two words that can immediately cause shivers of fear: root canal. But the truth is far from terrifying. With modern medicine and experienced dentists providing high quality care, a root canal is a relatively painless procedure that alleviates a huge amount of discomfort.
In this blog, we aim to demystify what a root canal treatment is, when you might need one, and what to expect from the procedure.
What is a Root Canal?
Technically speaking the root canal is part of the tooth – but to make things easy we will use ‘root canal’ and ‘root canal treatment’ to mean the same thing.
Root canal treatments, also called endodontic treatments, remove infected tooth pulp to stop infection spreading and save as much of the tooth as possible. Every tooth has a coating of white enamel outside a hard layer of dentine. Those two layers protect the pulp, soft tissue inside your teeth containing blood vessels and nerve endings.
The pulp connects to surrounding tissue. While it is important for growing teeth, fully formed teeth can survive without pulp.
Did you know: The word endodontic comes from two Greek words: Endo or ‘within’, and Odont or ‘tooth’.
When Do You Need a Root Canal?
When the pulp inside a tooth becomes infected or inflamed, a root canal treatment removes the painful matter and seals the tooth to prevent further infection. Left unchecked, pulp infections can spread to the jaw, throat and further into the body.
Pulp can become infected in several ways:
Sudden mouth injury
Built up bacteria causing infection
Cracked or chipped teeth
Signs you may need a root canal
Chipped or cracked teeth
Severe localized pain while biting or chewing
Swollen, red or sensitive gums
Gum pimples or abscesses
Sensitivity to hot and cold
Decay or darkening of tooth and gum
What is the Procedure?
Far from the painful barbaric treatment you might imagine, root canal treatments are straightforward endodontic procedures performed in the dentist’s chair.
Root canals take 3-4 appointments scheduled 3-4 weeks apart. Each appointment ranges between 30-75 minutes. The appointments are spaced this far apart is because, although antibiotic paste is placed in the tooth, time is also needed to allow the body time to heal on its own naturally.
Once the dentist has taken x-rays to confirm the infection, a root canal involves 7 steps:
Dentist applies local anesthetic to numb the area
Using a small drill, the dentist opens the tooth to expose the infected pulp
Damaged or diseased pulp is cleared away
When the tooth chamber is cleaned and dried, the dentist applies an antibiotic paste and then a temporary filling
A few weeks after a patient returns to have the root canals shaped (there can be up to 4 in a molar and as few as 1 in a front tooth). The canals need to be shaped to fit the filling material, which is placed at a later stage. Antibiotic paste and a temporary filling are placed again.
A few weeks later the patient returns for a dressing change. The antibiotic paste is placed again to rule out any risk of the tooth re-infecting. It’s important to fully ensure that the tooth is bacteria free before permanently sealing it up.
A final appointment is scheduled 4 weeks later for the root canal to be completed. This procedure will seal up the canals. Then a permanent filling is placed.
Root Canals & Dental Crowns
A root canal and crown go hand in hand with each other. You can’t really have one without the other. A root treated tooth has had its nerve and blood supply removed due to infection. This means the tooth can become dry and brittle over time. There is also filling material in the root and the natural crown of the tooth.
A crown will offer the tooth some support. We always quote both procedures before commencing treatment, because we want our patients to always be aware of the connection between both procedures and to understand the importance of having both.
A root treated tooth can potentially split straight through the middle. The patient is left with two clean halves from crown to tip (or apex of the tooth). A crown acts like a helmet to keep everything together. We offer interest free payment plans for costly procedures such as root canals and crowns.
Root Canal or Extraction?
Root canals are initially a considerable amount more expensive than an extraction and filling. However, if you have the tooth extracted eventually it will cost more. If you remove a tooth, the other teeth will fall over into the open space, similar to a bookshelf.
Therefore, the tooth will need to be replaced with either an implant or denture. Implants are a great solution but can be expensive and we always aim to keep natural tooth structure in place where possible. No dental technique can replicate a natural tooth structure.
Most patients prefer to avoid dentures where possible as it can impact on their eating habits, overall self-esteem and confidence. So, by choosing a root canal treatment over an extraction, a patient may actually be saving in the long run.
Root canal treatments relieve pain and offer a more preferable long-term solution to extracting a tooth. Still, most people would prefer to not need one at all. And the good news is root canals are often entirely preventable. With regular dentist visits, diligent at-home dental care and a healthy diet low in sugary foods and rich drinks, you can minimize the risk of infection.
If you do need a root canal treatment you can rest assured the Apex Dental team will provide the best care. We understand the reluctance to root canals and are here to see you through the treatment pain-free, giving you plenty of reasons to smile.