Nothing strikes fear into the heart of dental patients quite like the words ‘root canal’. When the blood or nerve supply of a tooth (often known as the ‘pulp’) becomes damaged through injury, infection, or decay, it can cause the nerve of the tooth to die. Years ago this would have meant that the tooth would have to be removed entirely before the whole area became infected. However, thanks to root canal treatment, it is now possible to save teeth that are at risk from the damaged pulp.
Infections spread quickly. This is particularly true in our mouths which, by being moist and warm, are a perfect breeding ground for the spread of bacteria. An infection that starts in the pulp can quickly spread through the entire root canal system and if left untreated, could grow to form an abscess. This can lead to excruciating pain and in some cases, a life threatening infection. Even if it doesn’t spread throughout your body, it will eat away at the bone that supports your tooth, and can lead to the tooth needing to be extracted.
The main goal of root canal treatment is to remove all of the infection from the root canal in order to save the original tooth.
While most people have heard a story from someone about a root canal being a horrible experience, over 90% of root canals are pain free procedures. There are rare occasions where it is very difficult to get someone completely numb, but this is by far the exception, not the rule. In fact, a root canal shouldn't be any more painful than an ordinary filling.
Root canal treatment is quite a complex process and will normally require two to three hours worth of treatment.
If you are experiencing pain with your tooth, and we determine that a root canal is the agreed upon course of treatment, we will do whatever we can to address your pain at the first visit. That will either be to start you on an antibiotic, “open up the tooth” to drain the infection or removed the diseased pulp, or refer you to a specialist if the root canal looks especially difficult.
At the next visit, the root canal therapy will be performed, and usually finished. Occasionally it takes more than one visit, depending on the number of canals and the complexity of them. During root canal therapy, the canal system is cleaned of any debris, shaped so that it can be completely accessed, disinfected, and then sealed off with a rubber like material called gutta percha. A temporary filling is then placed, and you can go back to using your tooth with some restrictions depending on how broken down it is.
About a month later, we will have you back for a re-evaluation of the tooth and an x-ray at no charge to verify that the area is healing, and to plan the final restoration visit. Depending on how broken down the tooth is, either a crown or a filling will be needed to protect the tooth long term. This is usually a crown, but in some situations a filling will do.
Occasionally, a tooth that had received root canal treatment can darken a few shades. Should there be any discoloration, you should speak to lighten the tooth back to a more natural color that will match your other teeth.