Calm Your Fears—Understand the Root Canal Process

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When told that they will need a root canal procedure, most dental patients automatically groan and begin to fret about it. What if you realized that that scary-seeming root canal should really be no more uncomfortable than a simple filling? The old root canals of the past have left behind a legacy of fear and loathing, but a quick understanding of modern root canal procedures could help allay some of those fears. Read on to learn more.

Why a root canal?

In most cases, your dentist has probably diagnosed you with an oral infection of the inside of the tooth, known as the pulp. The pulp is unique in its richness of blood vessels and nerve endings, and infections in this area will have you in severe pain and in danger of the infection causing permanent damage to the bones in your jaw. In some, relatively rare situations, the infection can spread to your brain, causing death. Be prepared for your dentist to refer you to an endodontist, a dentist that does things like root canals routinely.

What happens with a root canal?

1. Just as when you have a cavity filled, you will be numbed using an injection. In some cases, you may also be given something stronger, but ask about this ahead of time since anesthesia requires a lot more preparation, time and someone to drive you home.

2. A dental dam, which is a small piece of latex, is used to isolate the tooth and to keep it dry during the procedure.

3. You will then hear the drill, just like with a cavity filling. A small opening is made in the tooth, which allows the dental professional to remove the pulp and the decay. For back teeth, you can expect the opening to be on the top, and for other teeth it will be on the backside.

4. Once the area is completely cleaned out, filling material is inserted. This filling material is called gutta-percha, which is a rubber type substance. The hole is then sealed up with dental cement.

5. The root canal procedure itself is pretty much complete at this point, but you may need to return to have a more permanent restorative filling done in a week or so, once the irritation to the gums calms down.

6. A few days later, you will return to have a more permanent filling inserted into the tooth, since the temporary filing used won't stand up to the task of chewing for very long. In some cases, the tooth is fitted with a crown, which provides more stability, particularly for front teeth which are thinner and more vulnerable.

If you can accomplish a filling, you can undergo a root canal, so speak to your dentist about this procedure before too much damage is done to your oral health.