There are a large number of potential dental procedures that we all might go through over the course of our lives. The one that tends to strike fear in anyone’s heart is the root canal. The fact is that a root canal is no longer the huge treatment that it once was, and today’s techniques make it nearly pain-free. When your dentist suggests that you need a root canal, you shouldn’t worry once you know more about what the procedure is all about.
When is it Needed?
First of all, what kind of dental problem leads to a root canal in the first place?
After a cavity has broken down the enamel of your tooth, the softer inside (the pulp) can become infected.
When an infection sets in within the tooth, it eventually spreads down the root to create an abscess within your jawbone. Pulling the tooth alone won’t fix the problem once that develops. It’s very painful, and a root canal is now necessary.
This is the main reason why cavities need to be filled quickly, so they don’t develop to this point. But that’s another issue altogether.
What’s the Process
The first step is to thoroughly numb the area so there should be very little pain during the procedure. Then the dentist drills out the center of the tooth to get access to the pulp and inside the roots. Once the tooth is drilled, a fine tool is used to clean out the infected tissue down at the base of the tooth’s roots and surrounding abscess.
After all the infected material is removed, you now have an “empty” tooth. The channels that were drilled are filled with a permanent compound to protect the interior of the tooth from further damage or infection. Depending on the location of the tooth, a crown may be placed to give the top of the tooth a more natural look.
Depending on the location of the tooth and the extent of the infection, the entire procedure can take several appointments and is done in a series of steps. You’ll have to discuss this with your dentist to get a more precise course of action.
This may seem like a lot of effort to save a tooth. In some cases, you may simply have the tooth pulled instead of having the root canal done. A tooth that is not very visible in the back can be pulled without much concern but it can be undesirable to have a gap in your teeth in the front. In that situation, you can get a false tooth or bridge made to fill in the hole.
Another downside to having the tooth pulled is that the procedure may seem simpler, but it is actually more painful and leaves you at risk for future infection from the gap in your gums (at least until it heals over).
While the root canal has a bad reputation, it’s not a terrible procedure and can be preferable to the “easier” alternatives when you think about the details.