One of the biggest fears many people have is losing their teeth — it’s literally the stuff of nightmares! Sadly, nasty infections from untreated dental problems can indeed lead to serious, tooth-threatening problems. Fortunately, a root canal can often stop that dangerous infection in its tracks and save your tooth.
Who Performs a Root Canal?
Depending on his or her specialty, your regular dentist may not be the person who performs the actual procedure. That specialist is called an “endodontist.” A root canal is a standard procedure for treating inflamed or infected tissue surrounding individual teeth. Because these are so common, many dental practices either have an endodontist on staff or have established a relationship in which the endodontist is available at the office on certain days of the week.
In other words, it’s unlikely you’d have to travel to another office, as with other types of oral surgery.
When it's Needed
Signs that you may have the kind of infection for which a root canal is necessary include hot or cold sensitivity when eating and drinking, oral discharge, soreness or tenderness. Sometimes, however, patients are symptom-free and startled to learn there’s a problem requiring intervention.
Once the tissues near the “root” of your tooth become infected, pain and swelling can become debilitating. Even worse, you could lose the entire tooth, because the bone connecting the tooth to the jaw is sometimes becomes too severely damaged to hold the tooth in place any longer.
The initial cause of this dangerous infection can be one of several things. A cracked or discolored tooth, a seemingly minor injury without external damage, a specific bacterial illness or a deep cavity, bad dental work — all of these can lead to the type of infection requiring a oral surgery.
How it Works
A repair usually is done in two office visits.
During the procedure, you’ll be given a local anesthetic. Once that takes effect, the dentist creates an opening at the top of the tooth, then removes the nerve or nerves running through and underneath the tooth. She then cleans that opening, or “canal,” applies medication to the area as needed, seals the canal with a specialized material, and places a temporary filling over the opening.
At a follow-up visit, a permanent filling, or a post-and-cap structure, is placed into the canal. Unless there are complications, the filling or cap system will never need replacement.
Recovery and Aftercare
Most people do not feel pain during the surgery. The area is numbed before local anesthesia is injected, which provides a complete numbing effect for the duration of the treatment.
Depending on the complexity of the root canal and your own reaction to the procedure, you may feel some soreness later in the day. An over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling is usually recommended. You may also need oral antibiotics if the infection was severe.
In general, other than some potential sensitivity for a day or two, you will likely be in little to no pain after your procedure — especially compared to the prior discomfort from the infection itself!
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If you have any questions for us or if you’d like to schedule an appointment with any of our three dentists, please contact our office. Thank you for your confidence in our practice and for allowing us to provide your dental care.