These past months of quarantine may have meant eating a little more treats that maybe you should’ve. Unfortunately, a sugary diet can lead to major teeth issues, including increasing your risk of developing cavities – and the dreaded root canal!
We admit that root canals are not everyone’s favorite topic, but that’s often because of the misconceptions and fears people have regarding them. As your Edinburg dentists, we wanted to give you some facts and tips to make root canals a bit less misunderstood. After all, understanding them is the best way to rid yourself of a fear of root canals.
How Common Are Root Canals?
Unless you happen to be a dentist or endodontist (a dentist who specializes in the dental pulp of the tooth where root canal surgeries are performed), you may not get too excited about root canals. Still, there’s a good reason you should know about this particular dental procedure: it affects so many people.
According to the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), 25 million root canals are performed each year. In fact, there are an average 41,000 root canals performed each day. This means that during a week, there are at least 287,000 root canal procedures completed.
Chances are that one of your neighbors or co-workers is at the dentist right now getting a root canal.
Are Root Canals Safe?
One of the common misconceptions about root canals is that they are painful and/or dangerous. If you’ve ever seen “The Little Shop of Horrors”, a film about a crazy dentist and a human-eating plant, then you may have been scarred for life when it comes to seeing a dentist! But all joking aside, a whopping 15% of people in the US do not seek out dental care because of misconceptions and fears.
We’re here to reassure you that modern root canals are not what you may imagine them to be. In fact, 97% of root canals are successful procedures, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Plus, 85% of teeth fixed by a root canal last a lifetime.
The majority of root canals are performed by a specialist called an endodontist. Based on the NCBI report, 89% of patients are satisfied after endodontist treatment. Skilled general dentists perform 10.9 million root canals annually, and 72% of patients trust a general dentist to perform the procedure. This goes to show that root canals are a totally routine procedure, and there’s no reason to be afraid if you learn you need one.
What Is a Root Canal?
A root canal is performed to repair or save a tooth that has been damaged from decay or injury.
Before we get into the specifics of a root canal procedure, let’s quickly review the anatomy of a tooth. A tooth is made up of the crown and enamel (the pearly white area on top), the root and the bone. As you get deeper into the root, you will find dentin, pulp, gum, cementum, periodontal ligament, nerves and blood vessels. The “canal” of a tooth houses tooth pulp. This is the area that gets infected, the cause of many root canal treatments. These infections can come from a cavity in the tooth.
When a tooth has a cavity, it can spread to the pulp of the tooth and cause an infection beneath the tooth root. Because this condition affects the nerve tissue, it can be quite painful. When an infection develops, it can lead to an abscessed tooth. This means you have a pocket of pus and bacteria in the root of the tooth.
When an infected tooth is not treated with a root canal procedure, painful symptoms may develop, including:
- Swelling around the tooth
- Severe tooth pain
- Bone loss at the root of the tooth
- Higher sensitivity to heat or cold
- Discoloration of the tooth
- The infection can drain into the gum or cheek
If you experience these or similar symptoms, you should visit a dentist immediately to assess whether you need a root canal. The sooner you visit a dentist, the better.
How Does a Root Canal Work?
If you need a root canal, you will need to decide whether to have it performed by a general dentist or to seek out an endodontist who specializes in tooth pulp. Your dentist can help you decide which option will work best for you.
The procedure itself is pretty straightforward and can often be done in just one or two visits. Some people assume that tooth extraction is a quicker procedure, but this is often not the case. Modern technology has made root canals quick and easy to perform, and, far from causing pain, root canals have a tendency to relieve pain.
- The first step is to x-ray the tooth so that your dentist can see the shape of the root canal and check for any spread of the infection.
- Next, your dentist will apply local anesthesia to the area and drill into the tooth to clean out the nerve tissue that has been damaged. Dentists use root canal files of various sizes to carry this out and to remove the pus-filled sac full of bacteria that is inside the canal.
- Once the root canal has been cleaned, your dentist may use medication to clear up the infection.
- Your tooth will then be sealed with a temporary filling. This is done to protect the tooth from food and other contaminants until the next appointment.
- During your next appointment, your dentist will fill the tooth with a rubber compound paste called gutta-percha.
- Then your dentist will put a filling in the hole of the enamel.
- Finally, a crown (or a crown and post) is placed at the top of your tooth to keep it from breaking.
Tips for Root Canal After-Treatment
Now that your damaged and infected tooth has been cleaned, healed and strengthened, you will want to avoid doing anything that will send you back to the dentist. There are some simple tips you can follow to make sure you keep the tooth healthy after a root canal, including:
- It is natural to have some pain and discomfort, so be sure to take any prescription pain medication as directed by your dentist.
- Brush and floss regularly to keep the tooth area clean. This is also important general advice to make sure you won’t need a root canal in the first place.
- Pay attention to pain levels. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to call or visit the dentist.
- If you have a habit of grinding or clenching your teeth, you could unintentionally put pressure on the tooth. Consider wearing a mouth guard to combat the habit.
- If you haven’t had a crown placed, consider getting one as soon as possible, as this is important to strengthen the tooth.
How Do I Know If I Need a Root Canal?
Let’s be honest: nobody likes to go to the dentist, even if only because it takes time out of their busy day. Still, it’s important to know the causes of a root canal so that you can be sure to see a dentist as soon as possible before a problem gets worse.
Some of the common causes of a root canal are listed below:
- Long-term decay in the tooth that has evolved into an infection
- Recent trauma to the tooth
- An unrelated dental procedure
- Cracks, chips or large fillings in a tooth
Warning signs that you may need a root canal include the following:
- Sharp or significant pain when you are eating or placing pressure on the tooth
- Darkened or discolored teeth
- Swelling or tenderness in the gums around the tooth
- Extra temperature sensitivity to heat or cold
- A bump like a pimple around the painful area
Taking Care of Your Dental Health
Dental health is an area that is easy to overlook, either because we are afraid of seeing the dentist or just don’t want to deal with the hassle of a tooth problem. Especially during this global health crisis, your dental health should not be neglected.
If you have any tooth pain or other warning signs, don’t hesitate to visit your Edinburg family dentist at Heroes Dental. We can assess whether or not you need a root canal to treat your pain. We promise you will be happy that you did!