The root canal: it’s a dental experience nobody wants to have but that’s actually very common.
Right now, dentists throughout the U.S. perform about 15 million root canals annually, making them some of the most common dental procedures in the world.
Just because root canals are widespread, though, doesn’t mean you don’t have questions about what to expect from yours. Here’s everything you ever needed to know about a root canal, from start to finish.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a simple, outpatient procedure that gets rid of infected pulp within a problem tooth. During the procedure, the dentist will drill into the tooth in question, clean it out, shape the inside of the tooth, and fill and seal it to prevent future problems.
Root canals are warranted when filings are not enough to rectify damage and the tooth needs extensive attention. Without this procedure, the tissue surrounding the tooth may become infected and be vulnerable to abscess, which can lead to further issues in your surrounding teeth.
While many people worry about how a root canal will affect the nerve of their tooth, it’s important to remember that the tooth’s nerve is not essential to the health and wellness of the tooth after it emerges through the gums.
Although you may lose some sensations of hot or cold in the affected tooth, the tooth will remain functional and strong once the procedure is over.
How Long Does a Root Canal Take?
A root canal may take as long as a few hours. But don’t worry – the dentist will numb you with local anesthesia.
Some dental offices even offer additional sedation options to keep you comfortable throughout your procedure. If you’re nervous about being awake or being able to feel sensation during your root canal, don’t be!
Simply talking with your dentist will allow you to learn more about your sedation options and find a solution that works for you. If you don’t want to go “under” during the procedure, you’ll have the option of listening to a podcast or music or watching a movie while your dentist works to complete the procedure.
What are the Signs you Need a Root Canal?
Aside from hearing the news from your dentist, what are the signs you need a root canal? Here are a few sure-fire indications that the procedure is right for you:
- Pain or signs of infection, including swelling and discharge
- Dark tooth color, soft tissue changes, or asymmetry surrounding the tooth
- Thermal, percussion, electric pump, or x-ray evaluation outcomes
- Tenderness in the tooth root or gum
- Dental examination
If you believe you have any symptoms your dentist is not aware of, make an appointment immediately. Root canals are more effective when they’re undertaken at the first sign of trouble.
What to Expect After a Root Canal
For the first few days after your root canal, your tooth will likely feel sensitive due to inflammation surrounding the tissue. This is especially true if there was pain or infection surrounding the tooth before the procedure.
This discomfort is typically controlled with prescription pain pills or over-the-counter medications like Advil or Aleve. Despite the slight discomfort, most patients find that they can return to work and other normal activities the day following the root canal.
Although your doctor will give you specific information about how to care for your tooth after the procedure, it’s generally wise to avoid chewing on the tooth that is under repair. This helps prevent contamination of the tender interior of the tooth and helps ensure the tooth won’t break before it can be fully restored.
How Successful are Root Canals?
Root canals are highly successful treatments. The procedure has a 95% success rate, in fact. In virtually every root canal performed, the repaired tooth can and will last a lifetime.
What’s more, the repaired tooth will not appear obviously repaired. Instead, the crown or filling added to the tooth will keep it looking normal and natural, which will hide from onlookers the fact that it was performed.
Root Canal Alternatives
If there’s any way possible to save your natural teeth, your dentist will want to help you do it. Because of this, a root canal is often the treatment of choice.
By removing the infected pulp from the interior of the tooth and repairing its structure, a root canal allows you to keep your natural tooth and get rid of infection all at once.
In some cases, a dentist may recommend an alternative to a root canal, such as a bridge or implant. This is highly case-dependent, though, and will depend on your unique needs.
Preparing for Your Root Canal
As the time draws near for you to undergo your root canal, it’s normal to be nervous. Be sure to talk with your doctor regarding your concerns.
He or she will be able to provide you with some literature and information that will help you understand the process of a root canal and prepare yourself accordingly.
No matter what, remember that the root canal is a safe, routine procedure and that you’ll be back to yourself in no time!
Have additional questions about your root canal? Contact our offices to learn more!
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.