Root Canals Explained!

Child getting root canal check

While prevention is the best medicine, sometimes we have to use a special treatment to save a tooth that is infected or is badly decayed. One method we use in a particular set of circumstances is called a root canal.

Why Do People Need Root Canals?

Teeth aren’t just made out of bone-like dentin, and enamel. There is also the pulp, the innermost portion of the tooth, which consists of connective tissue, nerves, and blood vessels. Part of the pulp is in the large crown of the tooth, but the nerves and blood vessels enter through a small hole in the root. This area is the root canal.

A tooth can function pretty well without these sensitive nerves, whose main function is simply to transmit the sensation of hot or cold. During the treatment known as a “root canal,” the dentist removes infected or damaged pulp and replaces it with a filling.

A patient may need a root canal to repair and save a tooth that has badly decayed. The tooth and the surrounding tissues can become infected, become painful, and even form abscesses.

An abscess is a blister-like pocket that forms around the roots of the tooth, indicating a serious infection. Without treatment, this swelling can spread to other areas, cause bone loss, and become quite painful.

What Happens During a Root Canal?

Root canal process

Before we treat the tooth, we first want to get a good look at the situation. We use X-rays to see the shape of the root and to assess the level of infection. After we’ve inspected the problem area, we are ready to get to work.

We use local anesthetic for the area near the tooth, though pain isn’t usually an issue with a root canal (the nerve is dead). We also apply a rubber dam around the tooth, which helps keep the work area dry.

We use a dental drill to make a tiny access hole and remove the decayed tissue from the tooth. Then we thoroughly clean the root canal with special files made for the task.

After clearing the root canal, we seal the tooth. This is typically done the same day, though in some instances we may hold off to let medication do its job fighting an infection. If that’s the case, the patient will go home with a temporary filling before coming back for the final sealing.

The canal itself is filled with a special compound. And at the very least, we need to cover the access hole with a filling. Usually, teeth in need of a root canal are damaged, so the patient may also need a crown to fully restore the tooth.

What to Expect After a Root Canal

The affected area is typically pretty sensitive after a root canal. There will be some tissue inflammation and soreness associated with the treatment (and the prior infection, if present). This usually only lasts for a day or two, and then most patients are back to normal. You can use over-the-counter medications to control the discomfort.

Although your mouth will be sore for a little while, after the final sealing is complete, you can return to a normal oral hygiene routine immediately. Brush your teeth and floss as you normally would.

Dr. Wagner

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