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No one wants to get a root canal.
But when an infected or damaged tooth needs to be repaired, your dentist may suggest it. Also known as endodontic treatment, it’s considered one of the most intimidating dental procedures. Throughout dental history, endodontic procedures and their applications have been lengthy and complex.
Save for certain enhancements, the basic approach, tools and strategies for root canals have remained the same for the past three decades. Indeed, it remains the only viable option for many patients.
In this post, we’ll familiarize you with the basics of the procedure to (hopefully) help you get over any fear or unease.
What Is a Root Canal?
According to the Canadian Dental Association, root canal treatment is performed regularly and successfully by dentists all around Canada. So, what is it?
It’s a treatment of the soft tooth pulp which is spread out through the canals of the tooth up to its tip, or ‘apex’. This pulp consists of connective tissue, blood vessels and large nerves. It remains inside the pulp chamber; a hollow part at the centre of your tooth. When this pulp is inflamed, infected or dies, a root canal may be the only viable treatment.
The natural cavity within the centre of your tooth is generally referred to as the “root canal.” Some roots of your teeth may have multiple root canals, but each has at least one canal.
Put simply, root canal treatment and endodontic treatment are terms for the procedures used to treat the nerve of your tooth. The specific branch of dentistry that deals with the problems of the tooth pulp surrounding the root of the tooth is called endodontics. Why is that important? Because an endodontist is a dentist who has undergone years of training beyond dental school, to focus on root canal treatments specifically.
How to Know If You Need a Root Canal
Your teeth’s pulp and nerves can become damaged in various ways. When you need root canal therapy, you may feel alarming pain or other symptoms. Here we outline a few common reasons to get a root canal:
This is the most common symptom of needing a root canal. The pain coming from a tooth that needs root canal therapy is very specific. If the tooth isn’t dead, you will feel extreme sensitivity to hot or cold food and beverages. This sensation will continue even after the food or drink has been taken away. Unlike cold sensitivity, heat sensitivity is very specific to root canal issues.
- Abscess (Infection)
An abscessed tooth will require a root canal. During the treatment, the nerve and pulp are removed. The wound is then cleaned and sealed. If your tooth is damaged or infected and not treated in time, the surrounding tissue may form abscesses. Once the tiny canals in your teeth are infected, they can infect the pulp. Through a root canal, a dentist or endodontist can remove the infection and restore the look and feel of the tooth by putting in a filling or crown later.
- Deep Cavity
In the case of tooth decay, if the damage goes deep into your tooth and reaches the pulp, it will also get infected with bacteria. In that situation, your teeth will either die or become inflamed, causing extreme pain. In some cases, you may not feel pain, but the only way to get out all the decay is by performing a root canal to remove the affected nerve.
- Dental Trauma
Dental trauma happens where there’s accidental damage to your dental as well as supporting structures, such as the teeth, gums and jawbone. If your teeth are hit with great force, nerves may become severed at the end of the root and eventually die, sometimes many years later.
Did You Know?
Once your teeth have emerged from your gums, the nerves are no longer important for tooth health and function. Its function is sensory, and your teeth’s daily functioning may not even be affected in its presence or absence.
How Painful Is a Root Canal?
Despite this common notion, a root canal is not at all painful, when properly done. The dentist will numb the affected tooth with a local anesthetic to make sure you feel no discomfort.
That doesn’t mean that a root canal will leave your teeth with no feeling. During the procedure, the only nerve removed from the tooth is the one that gives the sensation of heat or cold. All the remaining nerves surrounding your teeth are left unaffected and will give your tooth the usual feeling. You probably won’t even be able to tell the difference between your other teeth and the treated tooth when you tap your teeth.
Saving a dying tooth is always a better option than replacing it with something artificial. Endodontic treatments, a.k.a. root canals, have such a high success rate that you might benefit from it more than a complete tooth extraction. However, make sure to get in touch with your dental specialist before making any decision.