Inside each of your teeth there’s a layer of soft tissue referred to as the “pulp”. It’s made up of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue, and it extends from the crown of your tooth all the way down to the roots. Root canal treatment is often necessary when the pulp, soft tissue that resides inside the canals of your teeth, or nerve of your tooth becomes either inflamed or infected.
There are a number of different things that can cause that inflammation or infection to occur, including deep decay, a crack or a chip in the tooth that leaves it vulnerable, an injury to the tooth, or even repeated dental procedures on a particular tooth. If left untreated this pulp inflammation and infection will continue to worsen, often resulting in a number of painful symptoms and potentially leading to an abscess. Without treatment, the infection can become severe enough that the tooth has to be removed completely.
Root canals get a bad rep, but they’re actually relatively simple and painless procedures. The treatment is completed in just one or two visits, depending on the scope of the infection and whether or not it is a first-time treatment or a retreatment. The root canal procedure itself involves only three steps, followed by a post-treatment crowning of the affected tooth.
After examining an x-ray of the tooth in question to determine how serious the infection or inflammation is, your dentist will start by using a needle to administer local anesthetic to numb the tooth and the surrounding areas. They’ll then test the tooth and gum to ensure that you’re sufficiently numb and have no sensitivity before beginning the procedure. Your dentist may use a dental dam during your root canal, it’s a small rubber contraption designed to isolate the infected tooth and keep the rest of your mouth clean and dry during the procedure.
Once you’re completely numb and ready to begin, your dentist will drill an opening through the top of your tooth so that they’re then able to remove the infected pulp from your pulp chamber and canals. The canals will then be cleaned with a disinfecting solution and shaped to properly accommodate a filling.
After the infection is removed and space is appropriately cleaned and shaped, your dentist will fill it with a rubber-like material called gutta percha. It’s placed with an adhesive cement to ensure that the canals of your tooth are properly sealed, then covered up with a temporary filling.
There is very little recovery time needed after a root canal procedure, many patients go back to work the same day. You may experience some tooth sensitivity or jaw pain for the first few days after treatment, especially if you were experiencing painful symptoms before the procedure. Over-the-counter medications like Advil or Ibuprofen should be more than sufficient to relieve any discomfort you may feel post root canal, but if necessary then your dentist can write you a prescription.
Although your heat/cold sensitivity and pain will be gone within days of the procedure, try to be as careful as possible with your tooth since it will be vulnerable. Avoid chewing very hard foods or putting unnecessary stress on the tooth until it’s been properly crowned to ensure that no damage occurs. Continue to practice good oral hygiene, paying special attention to the tooth that was treated. Be sure to brush and floss twice a day, and make sure that you don’t skip any annual check-ups and cleanings.
A few weeks after your procedure you’ll go back to your dentist so that they can complete the treatment by placing a permanent crown on top of the tooth. This will help protect the tooth from further damage and restore it to full function. In some cases, it may be necessary to use a post inside the tooth to help secure the crown, be sure to ask your dentist for specific details on how they plan to restore your affected tooth.
Your dentist may take post-procedure x-rays to ensure that all traces of the infection are gone. If you continue to experience painful symptoms over a week after your root canal treatment, however, be sure to call your dentist.
If you’re in the Summerville area and are experiencing painful dental symptoms, schedule an appointment with our dentists to determine if you need root canal treatment.