When tooth decay spreads to the pulp and nerve of a tooth, root canal treatment may be recommended. If your family dentist in Richmond, VA has recommended a root canal, or if you suspect you have an infected tooth, you probably have a lot of questions on your mind. What exactly will the procedure involve? Are there alternatives, and what will the recovery be like?
There are a lot of myths surrounding root canal treatment so it’s important to come to your procedure fully prepared and educated as much as possible. Much of the stigma surrounding root canal treatment focuses on pain and discomfort, but these claims are mostly exaggerated.
Here is everything that you need to know in your complete guide to root canal treatment.
What is a root canal?
A root canal is a type of endodontic dental procedure designed to remove the pulp and repair the decay of an infected tooth. The procedure can also be referred to as root canal treatment or root canal therapy.
The procedure is invasive, as your dentist will access the interior of your tooth to clear the infection and remove the pulp, but it is an outpatient procedure that can be performed in most dental offices. Because it’s common, it’s considered routine, and there is a low risk of complication with the right treatment planning.
Millions of people undergo root canal procedures every year. It’s one of the most commonly performed dental surgeries, next to tooth extraction. Unlike extraction, a root canal aims to save a natural tooth to limit the amount of restorative work that is required. Once performed, the treated tooth can be maintained for a lifetime.
What are the Signs and Symptoms That You Need Root Canal Treatment?
The signs that you need endodontic treatment are hard to miss. Like any kind of dental issue, you should never ignore pain or changes in your mouth. The sooner problems are addressed, the better the treatment outcome will be.
Inform your dentist if you experience any of the symptoms described below. Root canal therapy can treat the symptoms as well as the underlying cause, ensuring that your overall oral health is protected.
5 Signs That You Need a Root Canal
- Severe Pain and Sensitivity – Pain is one of the most obvious symptoms of a tooth infection. Pain from an infected tooth can occur suddenly or may come in waves. Whether you experience it once or several times over a few days, your dentist needs to know about this. The pain could intensify when you are sitting or in bed. The pain can also come with sensitivity to hot and cold foods or drinks. Sensitivity doesn’t always indicate an infection, but it should still be diagnosed by your dentist.
- Swollen and Darkened Gums – The gums around an infected tooth can swell as the soft tissue becomes inflamed. This could lead to mild pain or bleeding when brushing. Your gums may also darken in color when there’s a tooth infection. Don’t ignore these signs. Even if you don’t need a root canal, changes in the appearance or size of your gums should be referred to your dentist.
- Pimples on the Gums – Small pimples can appear on the gums, indicating that there’s an infection at the root. Like pain and swelling, these may come and go. Infections can subside in their intensity, but they won’t go away completely on their own. The longer you wait to see your dentist, the more risk there is of losing your tooth.
- Damage to the Tooth – If the tooth causing pain and sensitivity is damaged in any way, then it’s more likely that you will need root canal therapy. When a tooth is damaged with a chip, crack, or breakage, the softer tissue inside will become exposed, leading to infection. Fixing damage early can prevent the need for a root canal. Damaged teeth can be repaired with fillings, inlays, onlays, and crowns.
- Bad Taste in the Mouth and Persistent Bad Breath – If the infection is particularly bad, you could develop an abscess. This could lead to a significant infection, swelling, and drainage from in and around the tooth. This can lead to a particularly bad taste in the mouth, as well as persistent bad breath, even after brushing and rinsing.
Don’t Ignore the Symptoms of an Infected Tooth
Some of these symptoms may indicate other dental problems, but they all share one thing in common: they should all be presented to your dentist during a consultation. No matter which symptoms you experience, you can book an appointment to discuss any of your dental concerns. A complete diagnosis will determine whether a root canal or any other type of dental procedure is necessary.
Tooth infections may indicate a dental emergency. If the pain or swelling is severe, contact your dentist at Gardner & Midgette immediately.
Why is Pulp Removed During a Root Canal?
Although our teeth appear and feel hard and solid from the outside, they have a softer inner core known as the pulp.
The outer layer of teeth is called enamel. This is the hard layer that protects the structure and ensures that you can bite and chew food without difficulty. Below the enamel is a layer of dentin. This is softer than enamel but still harder than pulp. It protects the pulp from infection. When both the enamel and dentin are damaged or decayed, the pulp becomes exposed. This is the innermost layer that contains a network of nerves and blood vessels. Infections are painful because the pulp is where all of the feeling comes from.
The pulp can’t be rehabilitated. Treating the infection is possible, but it would eventually come back. So, in endodontics, the pulp is removed from the tooth instead. This eliminates the risk of further infection, prevents pain, and saves the tooth. After this, the rest of the tooth can be restored.
What Does Tooth Pulp Do?
Tooth pulp provides nutrition to the tooth. In addition to blood vessels and nerves, it also contains connective tissue and specialized cells. As teeth develop, the pulp helps them to grow. When fully developed, the pulp keeps the dentin healthy.
A tooth can survive without the pulp, but only if all of the material is removed and replaced with a special type of dental filling cement. This is what a root canal procedure is designed to do.
What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?
Like any significant dental procedure, there are several steps used to successfully perform a root canal. Your dentist will take you through the steps and specifics of your case once your treatment is scheduled. Even before then, you can get a broad idea of what will happen when you’re in the dental office.
It’s important to note that while your mouth will be open during the treatment, access will be blocked by a dental dam. Only your tooth will be exposed through the rubber membrane. The dam will cover your mouth to prevent saliva from getting inside the tooth being treated. The dam is also a safety element, ensuring that any tools and materials being used don’t fall into your mouth.
Your dentist will access the pulp of your tooth using a specialized drill. A hole will be created on top of your tooth (for premolars and molars) or at the back of your tooth (for front teeth). Small files are then used to clear away and extract the dental pulp and any infected material. The procedure can take up to four hours in some cases. The canals in the tooth are thin and curved, and the dentist needs to be thorough to ensure that the pulp and all infected material are removed.
If your tooth is infected with an abscess, it will also be drained during the procedure. Your dentist will also shape and widen the canals to ensure that every last bit of infected material is removed. This will be filled in later.
The inside of the tooth will be cleaned through a process of irrigation. A syringe will be used to fill the tooth with sterile water and an antibacterial liquid. This will then be drained back out, and the process will be repeated several times.
Repairing the Tooth
After the extraction of the pulp, cleaning, and shaping of the canals, the next step is to fill the tooth. A special type of cement will be injected into the tooth. It will completely fill the canals before being hardened with heat.
At the top of the tooth, a regular aesthetic (tooth-colored) filling can be used to seal the tooth and prevent any bacteria from getting inside. Filling the tooth is just as important as the previous steps. Special care is taken to ensure that the filling material completely solidifies in the canals. This can be confirmed after the procedure with an X-ray or other imaging scans.
In some cases, it is necessary to add a crown. If the tooth was extensively damaged before the procedure, a simple filling won’t be enough. A crown will replace the top of your tooth, ensuring it is the right size and shape, while also preventing bacteria from getting inside. Crowns can be made from a variety of materials including resin, porcelain, gold, and zirconia.
Options for crown restoration will be discussed in your initial consultation. The type of crown used can affect the price of the treatment and the durability of the restoration. Ask your dentist at Gardner & Midgette about available options.
Does it Hurt to Get a Root Canal?
The biggest misconception surrounding root canal therapy is the myth that the procedure is painful.
In reality, the treatment area is numbed for the surgery. You might experience a little discomfort, but no pain. You could also have a root canal performed under sedation, depending on how complex or time-consuming the procedure is likely to be. If you are particularly anxious, sedation may be recommended.
There can be some pain and discomfort after the procedure, but this subsides within the first 48 hours, and you can usually return to normal activity within a couple of days.
The myth is that root canals hurt. The reality is that the pain from an infected tooth is far more severe than the discomfort that comes from getting a reliable treatment! Contact the Richmond, VA dental experts at Gardner & Midgette for more information.
The Alternatives to Root Canal Treatment
If a root canal treatment is unviable, there are alternatives. Teeth can be extracted and replaced with dentures or even dental implants. Saving a tooth is typically the best option but there are exceptions. It’s important to choose a dentist that you trust so that you can get the best advice for treatment.
Getting the Best Treatment with Your Family Dentist
Root canal treatment is an effective and reliable way to treat a tooth infection and prevent tooth loss. It can prolong the life of a tooth for decades or even your lifetime in many cases.
For the most detailed care with a kind and compassionate staff, visit Gardner & Midgette. Book your appointment today for the most thorough treatment planning and endodontic procedures. Call (804) 272-2010 to schedule your root canal consultation.