If you visit your dentist as scheduled they may be able to halt tooth decay before it becomes too serious. If, however, you let it go on for too long the tooth will get infected right at the root and cause you severe pain. At that point the only course of action is to have a root canal performed. This is a procedure that involves removing the infected root – otherwise called pulp – cleaning out the resulting hole and then filling it with sealant. Most people imagine that root canals are very painful procedures. As a matter of fact they used to be many years ago before we developed powerful anesthetics, but today all you will feel is a slight discomfort after the procedure. You can have a root canal performed for reasons other than tooth decay – if a tooth is cracked, if it has suffered severe trauma or repeated oral treatments have weakened it a root canal can fix it.
Benefits of root canal
The main benefit of having a root canal procedure is that you avoid the pain that comes with toothache. A toothache can keep you going about your day as usual and will keep you awake at night. If the infection goes untreated it will eventually affect your jaw and you may need more complex surgery. In fact, infected teeth can lead to severe problems and even death when pus leaks into the brain. If you notice that you have a decayed or cracked tooth it is important to have your dentist treat it right away.
Other benefits of root canal are:
• You will be able to save a tooth – the alternative to have a root canal done is having the tooth extracted. The gap will need to be filled using a dental implant and this will cost you more.
• An extraction leads to a lot of oral changes – the teeth next to the gap will start to collapse and eventually you will need much more extensive and expensive dental work.
Are there disadvantages of root canals?
As a matter of fact there are:
• A root canal makes the tooth lose its vitality, making it brittle and prone to chips and cracks. That is why dentists recommend that root canals be topped off with crowns.
• Root canals are expensive. Many people who don’t have dental coverage choose extraction as it brings immediate relief from pain and doesn’t cost nearly as much as a root canal.
• Root canals take longer than extractions – an extraction will take just a few minutes and you will be free of pain while a root canal will take several sessions each a few hours long before it is complete.
The root canal procedure
As mentioned, the procedure is a long one. On your first visit your dentist will x-ray the affected area to determine how much decay there is. This will not take longer than a few minutes. Once he has established the extent of the damage he will inject the area around the tooth with anesthesia so as to make it numb. Once you are numb enough it is time to get to the pulp. This is done using small tools such as drills that are used to bore a hole at the top of the tooth and reveal the infected pulp. He will remove it all and disinfect the hole. He will also shape the hole so that the filling can sit properly. You will not feel any pain during this procedure but if you are anxious you can talk to your dentist about giving you something that will help you feel relaxed. After the disinfection the dentist will fill it with a material called gutta percha and then seal it off with a filling.
You will be sent home so that the tooth can heal during which time the dentist will prepare a crown for your root canal. You will be called it a few weeks later for your crown to be inserted.
Before your root canal
• There are drugs that your dentist can give you to make you feel more relaxed during your root canal. If you choose to go this way make sure that you take your medication on time.
• Have someone to take you to and from the dentist – the after-effects of the anesthesia will affect your ability to drive.
• Eat as you normally would – you want your body to experience as few changes as possible. If, however, your dentist will be using IV sedation you will be advised by your dentist not to eat for some hours before the procedure.
After your root canal
Your dentist will give you painkillers and an antibiotic to take after your procedure. The antibiotic is to ensure that you don’t get any infection. They will also give you an appointment so that they can check up on how well you are healing. You will feel a little tender the first few days but the painkillers can help combat that. You may also experience sensitivity especially if your infection was severe. After you are completely healed the dentist will place a porcelain crown to reinforce the tooth.