Knowing that you need dental work can be a scary thought, but often, the fear is unjustified.   Root canals are one of the procedures that patients fear most. But, this is usually because they don’t fully understand the procedure.  

The truth is that root canals are a relatively painless procedure. All they do is to get rid of pain-inducing dead tissue and infections from inside the tooth.  The following facts will explain 3 things you may not know about root canals. It will help you better understand what a root canal is, explain why you might need one, and end the misconception that it is a painful process that you want to avoid.

1. What a Root Canal Actually Entails—The Anatomy of the Tooth and the Procedure

Many people are afraid of getting a root canal merely due to a lack of understanding about what the procedure entails. The actual “root canal” is part of the anatomy of the tooth. It is the part of the tooth below the jawline.  This hollow portion of the tooth contains the blood vessels, nerve tissue, and other cells, collectively known as the pulp.

Nowadays, the term “root canal” has become synonymous with the procedure for treating infections in this area. It is the common term for endodontic (inside the tooth) treatment.

The procedure involves drilling a hole into this soft tissue while the patient is under a local anaesthetic. From there, the dentist removes the dead and diseased pulp tissue with small files.  The dentist then shapes, cleans, and disinfects the hollow area of the tooth. After this, they fill it with a material similar to rubber and sealing it with an adhesive cement. The roots are now dead, and the pre-procedural pain will subside.   

Because the pulp is what nourishes the tooth, after treatment, the area won’t receive as much nourishment as before. This can lead to it becoming brittle.  For this reason, patients will need to get a crown made or a filling put in. This usually occurs during the same visit, but it can take additional appointments if the roots are complex and curved.  

2. Why People Require a Root Canal

Patients with deep cavities, loose fillings, or cracked teeth may have bacteria enter the pulp of the tooth.  This can lead to damage that causes the tissue to die. Over time, these bacteria will destroy the pulp and move into the tissue where the tooth meets the jaw.

Once the bacteria enter the tooth, it will become more painful. It may result in a throbbing sensation that also causes sensitivity to heat and cold.  A root canal is performed to stop the infection spreading into the bone. If the infection spreads, the tooth will become loose and may require extraction.

Getting a root canal can help save the tooth.  However, some patients opt to get the tooth removed if the pain is too intense or too much damage to the tissue around the root has occurred.

3. You Don’t Have to Fear the Pain

A common misconception is that a root canal is a painful procedure.  Before getting the tooth fixed, there usually is a throbbing pain. However, it can subside, especially if the tissue inside the tooth begins to die.  This pain can come back worse as the infection grows, so you should seek treatment as soon as you first notice the pain.

Many patients associate this pain before the procedure with the procedure itself. However, modern methods and anaesthetics numb the nerves and should cease what little pain you may feel.  This is the same type of injection you get for fillings and basic extractions.

After the procedure, some soreness may persist. You can mitigate the pain with an everyday, over the counter medication.  Because the tooth has had the tissue removed and is now dead, the only possible source of pain is if there is a lingering infection. This is why many dentists prescribe an antibiotic to take after the procedure.

Keeping up with your dental health will help your teeth last longer while maintaining your smile.  If a tooth becomes damaged and infected, a root canal may be the best way to keep the tooth and to be free of the pain.  Knowing what the procedure entails should clear up any scary misconceptions about root canals and allow you to feel more relaxed about the process.