Whether you’ve been told you need a root canal on a particular tooth or just curious about what goes into the root canal process, we, at Lipkowitz Dental Associates, are here to help. When tooth pain sets in, a visit to the dentist is important to your overall oral health. Cavities, if left untreated, can affect the root, or nerve, of the tooth, causing you to need a root canal to save what’s left of the sick tooth. A root canal is a common procedure that dental professionals perform often.
Learn more about the root canal process below.
What is a root canal?
A root canal is an in-office dental procedure performed in an effort to save a tooth. It involves the precise removal of the soft center, or pulp, of your tooth. The pulp is located at the center of the tooth and comprises blood vessels, cells and connective tissue. A large part of the pulp’s job, within the tooth, is to help it grow and thrive within the mouth. The pulp is considered the “live” portion of your tooth, ensuring that it stays in balance by feeding your tooth required nutrients. If your pulp becomes infected a root canal is required to remove the pulp to try and save the tooth structure. A root canal is usually performed under general anesthesia by a dentist or endodontist.
More than 15 million root canals are performed a year in the United States, making it a common dental procedure.
How do I know if I need a root canal?
The first signs of a root canal are typically pain and tenderness near the affected tooth. Other symptoms include sensitivity to hot or cold, tooth discoloration, swollen gums, pain when you chew, tooth mobility and a chip, crack or hole in the tooth. Because these symptoms can indicate a variety of dental issues, it is imperative that you get a proper diagnosis from a dental professional.
Once the tooth’s pulp is affected by decay or injury, a root canal is normally needed. There are a variety of reasons that your tooth’s pulp needs to be removed including:
- A crack in the tooth’s enamel
- Deep decay caused by an underlying cavity
- A tooth that has experienced multiple dental procedures, weakening the enamel
- An injury to the affected tooth.
How long does it take to fix my tooth completely?
A root canal is an in-office, outpatient procedure that requires multiple visits ranging from a few hours to less than an hour.
There are 5 steps during the initial root canal procedure visit to note.
Step 1: Anesthesia
Localized anesthesia is administered in the gums near the affected tooth. You will remain awake for the entirety of the procedure, but the anesthesia will keep the root canal area numb. Pain should not be felt during the procedure, so, alert your dental team if you feel uncomfortable.
Step 2: Removal of the tooth’s pulp
The most lengthy part of the procedure is removal of the tooth’s pulp. Once your tooth and surrounding gums are numb, the dentist or endodontist will make a hole in the center of your tooth. Once the infected pulp is visible they will use specialized tools to remove the pulp and clean out all canals throughout the tooth in a precise and efficient manner.
Step 3: Topical antibiotic is administered
Because the pulp and adjacent areas are infected, the dentist will often administer topical antibiotics throughout the inside of the tooth to ensure the infection is completely removed. Antibiotics used on the source of the infection also help mitigate future infections.
Step 4: Sealer is added
Once the pulp is removed and an antibiotic is added, your dentist will add a sealer paste to the tooth and a rubber-like material known as gutta-percha. It is heated and pressed into the tooth canal and used to prevent infection. It acts as the permanent filling in a root canal tooth.
Step 5: A temporary filling is placed
Once the sealer and gutta-percha are added to the tooth’s canal, a temporary filling is placed at the top of the hole on the tooth. This temporary option, usually lasting about a month or less, prevents the tooth from becoming infected or damaged from saliva and standard oral activity, like eating, talking or spitting.
Once you receive your temporary filling, your first appointment is concluded. A few days after the procedure you are seen again by your dentist where x-rays are taken to confirm the infection is no longer present. You are fitted for your permanent crown and your temporary filling is replaced with a permanent one within a couple of weeks. At that point, your tooth is considered fully restored and should be treated and cared for like the rest of your teeth, including regular brushing, flossing and dental visits.
Are there any risks to having a root canal?
Although considered a low-risk procedure, there are risks associated with any type of oral surgery. In most cases, a tooth can be fully restored by a root canal procedure, but in rare instances the amount of decay or damage cannot withstand the procedure and fails during the process, causing permanent tooth loss. Other risks include the development of an abscess near the procedure area or resistance to antibiotics resulting in a more long-term infection.
If you are a candidate for a root canal, we understand the apprehension that can come from this procedure and are here to help you through the process. Schedule a consultation with our dental experts today to discuss the best options for your oral health.