Root canal: Everything you need to know
- August 14, 2017
- 6 mins read
Tooth decay is huge problem. It affects people of all ages: kids, teenagers, and yes, even adults. While it can be reversed in its early stages, it can cause a number of complications when left alone. In severe cases, your dentist can prescribe some treatment options depending on your unique needs, but one of the most common of which is root canal treatment, more popularly known as just root canal.
Tooth decay involves the deterioration and destruction of the enamel that forms the outer coating of the teeth. Its most common cause is the buildup of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that coats the teeth, particularly after consuming foods and beverages that contain sugars. These bacteria produce acids that eat away at the enamel, exposing the bone underneath and making it prone to damage. The enamel can repair itself through the minerals in your saliva and the fluoride in your toothpaste.
In severe cases, however, your dentist will have to intervene. The root canal treatment is a go-to procedure for cases where the tooth has become badly decayed or has contracted an infection. If such a case remains untreated, the tissues surrounding tooth will also suffer the infection and may develop painful abscesses.
What is root canal?
Technically, the term “root canal” pertains to the natural cavity found at the center of the tooth. Inside, you will find the pulp area, as well as the nerves of the tooth. The tooth can function even without the nerves, but it is the latter that allows the teeth to experience different sensations, such as the temperature of the food you are eating.
As a form of treatment, root canal refers to the process of boring a hole in the tooth to access its natural cavity. The pulp and the nerve are then removed. The inside of the tooth is cleaned and then sealed to protect it from further damage. The pulp is removed to prevent it from housing more bacteria and causing even more damage to the infected tooth. If allowed to stay inside the tooth, it can cause the development of pus in the cavity, causing swelling and bone loss.
How is a root canal performed?
Depending on the severity and the factors surrounding your condition, the root canal may be performed by either a dentist or an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in diseases and injuries of the dental pulp and nerve. You can talk to your dentist for recommendations on which dental doctor will be able to offer you the exact type of treatment you need.
In any case, a root canal usually entails a few visits to the dentist. In the first step, you will have to take an X-ray of your mouth. This will allow your dentist to determine the shape of your root canal, as well as the progress of the condition. More advanced stages may involve infections in surrounding bones, and the X-ray can detect this.
Your dentist or endodontist will then apply local anesthesia to the area close to the infected tooth. This is actually unnecessary since the nerve in said tooth is already dead. Dentists do this to make patients more relaxed about the procedure. A rubber dam will help control the presence and quantity of saliva around the tooth over the course of the treatment.
The dentist will then drill an access hole at the side of your tooth. It is through this that the pulp and decayed nerve tissue, together with the bacteria, will be removed. The process involves the use of root canal files of increasing diameter, which scrub the insides of your tooth until is properly cleaned. Water or sodium hypochlorite will then be used to flush debris out of your tooth.
After the tooth has been thoroughly cleaned, it will be sealed. Some dentists will give you time, while others will do the sealing process immediately. If your tooth is infected, the doctor can apply medication inside the tooth. If your dentist decides to seal the hole at a later time, they will cover the exposed canal using temporary sealant so as to keep saliva and food particles from entering.
If your dentist decides to immediately fill the hole, they will do so filling your tooth with a sealer paste and gutta percha, a rubber compound. Fillings will be used to cover the access holes created during the start of the operation. To complete the process, your dentist may recommend restoring the tooth with the use of a crown and other methods. These will help return your tooth to its normal function and will make the formerly infected tooth appear inconspicuous.
Root canals are generally reliable, with a success rate that’s greater than 95%. Teeth operated on usually last a lifetime. The procedure has a reputation of being painful, but reports indicate that the discomfort is similar to what you would experience in a normal filling.
How do you cope after a root canal?
Over several days after the procedure, you can expect the tooth to feel very sensitive. This is normal and is caused by inflamed tissue. Your doctor can recommend pain relievers to address the discomfort. You need to ask your dentist when you can return to your daily routine, but most patients can do so after just a day. It would be wise to minimize strain on the tooth operated on. You would need to refrain from chewing very tough food. Maintaining dental hygiene through regular brushing, flossing, and using an antiseptic mouthwash will help keep germs away and prevent the problem from happening to your other teeth as well. Make it a point, too, to pay your dentist a visit to ensure that your teeth are at their best always.
A root canal treatment is an incredible procedure that offers tested results. It offers a chance to save your teeth from the dangers and ill effects of tooth decay. Yet as they say, prevention is better than cure. That said, always make sure to keep your teeth clean to avoid having to worry about tooth decay in the first place.