You might be a bit apprehensive if your dentist recommends a root canal treatment, especially if it's your first. That's understandable: Popular culture has portrayed the root canal as an unpleasant experience.
But as a routine dental procedure, root canal treatments have been responsible for saving millions of decayed teeth. And, with local anesthesia, the procedure is painless. In fact, a root canal treatment stops pain that often results from advanced tooth decay.
So, let's take the mystery out of the root canal. Here's the 411 on this vital but often misunderstood dental procedure.
Why the name “root canal”? The terms for the procedure—root canal therapy, root canal treatment or simply “root canal”—arise from one of the principal parts of the tooth involved, root canals. These are tiny passageways that lead from the tooth's innermost layer, the pulp, to the tooth roots. While treatment often focuses on decay or diseased tissue within the pulp, the root canals can be infected too and must be included in the later filling process.
Who can perform a root canal? All general dentists are trained in basic root canal procedures. Depending on your tooth's condition, your family dentist may be able to perform it. But if your tooth has an intricate root canal network or some other complication, you may need an endodontist, a specialist in interior tooth and root treatments. Endodontists can perform advanced root canal techniques and have the specialized equipment to handle intricate cases.
What happens during a root canal? Although details may vary depending on the type of tooth and extent of decay, there's a basic process for all root canal procedures. After numbing the tooth and surrounding tissues, the dentist drills into the tooth to access the inner pulp chamber and root canals, then removes the diseased tissue and disinfects the empty chamber and canals. After preparing the canals, the dentist then fills the empty spaces. This, and subsequent sealing and crowning, protects the tooth from future decay.
After the procedure you may have some minor soreness for a few days, which is usually manageable with mild pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. This discomfort will diminish with time, and your tooth will have a new lease on life.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Treatment.”
Bad news at your last dental visit: You have a decayed tooth. And not just in the enamel—the decay has invaded the tooth's inner pulp and the resulting infection is threatening the supporting bone structure.
You're thinking that tooth is toast. Then comes the good news: your dentist believes the tooth can be rescued with a root canal treatment.
But then you begin thinking about how often Uncle Sid says he'd rather undergo a colonoscopy than have a root canal. Is the procedure really as painful and uncomfortable as popular culture says it is? What is a root canal really like?
First step: Things go numb. Uncle Sid is wrong: A root canal treatment is painless because your dentist will first make sure the entire area involving the tooth is anesthetized. This does involve injecting the local anesthetic deep within the tissues, but you won't even feel the needle prick thanks to topical anesthesia applied to the surface gums.
Second step: Drilling deep. After applying a protective dam to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors, your dentist will drill a small access hole through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp and root canals. If it's one of the larger back teeth, the access hole is usually drilled in the tooth's biting surface; in a front tooth, the hole is usually located on the tongue side.
Third Step: Removing diseased tissue. Using special instruments, your dentist will remove the diseased tissue in the pulp and root canals, essentially stopping the infection and any tooth pain you've been experiencing. The empty pulp chamber and canals are often then disinfected with a special antibacterial solution.
Fourth Step: Protecting the tooth. After some shaping, the pulp chamber and root canals are filled with a special filling to prevent further infection. The access hole is then filled and sealed to complete the procedure. At some point in the future, the tooth typically will need a crown to add support and further protection.
You may have some minor discomfort afterward, but this can usually be managed with a mild pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. After a week or so, you'll be good as new—and so will your tooth.
If you would like more information on root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
If you’ve ever read online that root canal therapy causes cancer, don’t be alarmed—it doesn’t. What it does do is save a deeply decayed tooth that might otherwise be lost.
Tooth decay is caused by acid produced by bacteria, which dissolves enamel to create a hole or cavity. But it doesn’t stop there: decay can move on to infect the tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp filled with nerves and blood vessels. Unchecked, the resulting infection can travel through the root canals to eventually infect the bone.
A root canal treatment stops the infection before it goes this far. After administering a local anesthetic, we drill a small hole into the tooth to access the pulp chamber and root canals. We then remove all the diseased tissue, disinfect the space and then place a filling within the empty chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. We then seal the access hole and later crown the tooth to further protect and stabilize it.
It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that root canal treatments have saved millions of teeth. So, for all its beneficial effect, why is it considered by some to pose a health danger?
The germ for this notion comes from the early 20th Century when a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a “dead” organ in place would harm the body. Since a root-canaled tooth with the pulp’s living tissue removed is technically no longer viable, it fit the category of “dead” tissue. Thus, according to this theory, maladies like cancer could arise because of the “dead” tooth.
Unfortunately, this theory has found a somewhat new life recently on the internet, even though it was thoroughly investigated and debunked in the 1950s. And as late as 2013, a study published in a journal of the American Medical Association found no increased cancer risk after root canal treatment, and even some evidence for a reduced risk.
So, if your dentist recommends root canal treatment, rest assured it’s needed to save your tooth. Rather than harm your health, it will improve it.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Root Canal Safety.”
Dental implants have soared in popularity thanks to their life-likeness, functionality and durability. But these prized qualities have also created an ironic downside—people are much more likely to replace a tooth with an implant rather than go through the time and effort to preserve it.
We say downside because even though an implant is as close to a real tooth as we can now achieve in dentistry, it still can't rival the real thing. It's usually in your long-term health interest to save a tooth if reasonably possible. And, there are effective ways to do so.
Most dental problems arise from two common oral diseases. One is tooth decay, caused by contact with acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque. We can often minimize the damage by treating the early cavities decay can create. But if we don't treat it in time, the decay can advance into the tooth's pulp chamber, putting the tooth in danger of loss.
We can intervene, though, using root canal therapy, in which we drill into the tooth to access its interior. We clean out the decayed tooth structure, remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty chamber and root canals to seal the tooth and later crown it to further protect it from re-infection.
Periodontal (gum) disease also begins with bacteria, but in this case the infection is in the gum tissues. Over time the ensuing inflammation locks into battle with the plaque-fueled infection. This stalemate ultimately weakens gum attachment, the roots and supporting bone that can also increases risk for tooth loss.
We can stop a gum infection through a variety of techniques, all following a similar principle—completely removing any accumulated plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. This stops the infection and starts the process of gum and bone healing.
You should be under no illusions that either of these approaches will be easy. Advanced tooth decay can be complex and often require the skills of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals). Likewise, gum disease may require surgical intervention. But even with these difficulties, it's usually worth it to your dental health to consider saving your tooth first before you replace it with an implant.
If you would like more information on how best to treat a problem tooth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
May is National Save Your Tooth Month, and tooth decay is a leading cause of lost teeth. It all begins with oral bacteria growing rapidly in built-up deposits of dental plaque, and in turn producing high levels of acid. At these levels, acid can erode the minerals in tooth enamel to create holes (“cavities”) that allow bacteria to enter the tooth and infect it.
If at all possible, we need to try to stop tooth decay early by disinfecting and filling these cavities. If not, decay can spread through the teeth to the underlying nerve (pulp) tissue, following passageways known as root canals. If this happens, the chances for saving the tooth are extremely low.
But if the decay does reach the tooth’s innermost layer—the pulp—filling the cavities won’t be enough. Decay this advanced requires a procedure known as root canal therapy, or a root canal for short.
If you winced a little, it’s understandable: Root canals have gained an unfair reputation as an unpleasant experience. In reality, a root canal performed by a skilled dentist or endodontist (a specialist in root canals) isn’t painful. In fact, if you come in with a painful tooth, you’re very likely to leave after the procedure without any pain.
Root canal procedures can vary depending on the type of tooth and the intricacy of its root canal network. Essentially, though, we remove the diseased pulp tissue, and then clean and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals. This stops the infection and, along with sealing and crowning the tooth, helps prevent a future re-infection.
How do you know if you need a root canal? You may find out from us if we discover advanced decay during a checkup or cleaning appointment. But you may encounter signs yourself like a throbbing toothache, pain during and after eating and drinking, or gum tenderness around a tooth. These are all possible indications of tooth decay.
If you experience any of these signs, you should see us as soon as possible for an examination. And don’t cancel your appointment if the pain goes away—this could simply mean the nerves in the pulp have died and are no longer transmitting pain signals. The infection, though, could still be there and continuing its rampage beyond the tooth and into the surrounding bone tissue.
Root canal therapy may not seem glamorous, but it’s an excellent option for a diseased tooth that would otherwise have to be removed. A root canal could get rid of your pain and give your troubled tooth a new lease on life!
If you would like more information about treating advanced tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Common Concerns About Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”