Root canals have gotten a bad rap over the years, and as a dentist who has taken many continuing education courses on them and performed the procedure innumerable times on my patients, I can say with confidence that the procedure’s “reputation”, if you will, is greatly undeserved. As a dentist, I feel it is my duty to raise awareness about this tooth-saving procedure and let people know that having a root canal treatment is really not so bad!
What is a root canal?
Technically speaking, a “root canal” is actually part of a tooth. It is a naturally occurring space in the tooth’s root that contains things like nerves, blood vessels and pulp tissue which in turn is comprised of connective tissues and special cells called odontoblasts. Sometimes this pulp can get infected, leaving you with an abscessed tooth. Left untreated, an abscessed tooth can jeopardize your oral and general health. That infected tissue needs to be removed and then that area needs to be sealed off. That is exactly what “root canal treatment” is.
During a root canal treatment, also known as “endodontic treatment”, your dentist will first give you a local anaesthetic, or freezing, to ensure that you don’t experience any pain. Next, a rubber dam will be placed around the tooth to be treated, in order to prevent the bacteria from your saliva from getting inside during the procedure. The next step involves your dentist making an opening in the tooth to gain access to its root canal system and the damaged pulp. Using very fine instruments – this is one procedure where I really appreciate my microscopic glasses! – the dentist enlarges and cleans the root canal system and removes the pulp. Once this step is complete, the canal is then sealed and the opening of the tooth access is also sealed with either a temporary or permanent filling.
After root canal treatment is complete, the treated tooth must be restored or brought back as closely as possible to its original state. There are many different restoration materials that can be used and the choice will depend largely on how strong the remaining tooth is that has been left. Your dentist will discuss various restorative options with you along the way.
During the root canal treatment
Because you are frozen, you should not feel any pain during the procedure. You may experience a bit of discomfort in having to keep your mouth open for a while but my patients find our television sets and headphones offer an effective distraction. For those who might be a bit nervous about the procedure, our office also offers oral sedation options as well as nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” to help maintain higher levels of comfort for our more anxious patients.
Gratitude is the word that comes to mind when I think of patients’ reactions after a root canal treatment. Sometimes teeth are a bit tender afterwards but patients are generally amazed at how quickly their severe pain vanishes and they become pain-free.
The vast majority of root canal treatments are successful. On occasion, retreatment is needed, during which time the filling material is easily removed, and the canal is recleaned, reshaped and refilled.
Benefits of root canal treatment
There are many benefits to root canal, including:
- They can be completed quickly. A root canal treatment can typically be completed in one to two appointments, depending on the extent of the infection and the complexity and intricacy of the canal system that requires cleaning.
- They are long-lasting. Most root canal treatments last a person for many, many years, and in some cases, an entire lifetime.
- They save teeth. Often the only alternative to root canal treatment is extraction which can bring with it other challenges and expenses. Our original teeth are precious. We are so fortunate that ongoing advancements in the dental sciences that include increasingly sophisticated procedure methods and instruments, have made root canal treatment the invaluable tooth-saving option it has become.
Steven Deskin is a Dentist in general practice.