What is a Root Canal? What You Need to Know About the Procedure

the patient is getting a root canal by a dentist at summit family & cosmetic dentistry in Spokane

Are you experiencing severe tooth pain or inflammation? Your tooth may be decayed or infected. Fortunately, root canal treatment can help to repair and save the affected tooth, effectively eliminating the need to extract it.

Today, roughly 25 million root canals are performed every year. However, before undergoing the procedure, you may want to learn a few things about this treatment option. So, what is a root canal and what can you expect during and after the procedure?

Here’s what to know.

What Is a Root Canal?

Root canal therapy, also known as endodontic treatment, is a restorative dental procedure that is used to save teeth that have damaged, inflamed, infected, or dead pulp.

A tooth has two main parts: the crown and the root. The crown is the visible white part above the gums, while the root is the part below the gums. Within the root is a hollow section at the center of a tooth known as the root canal. This internal chamber contains the pulp, the soft inner part of the tooth which contains blood vessels, connective tissue, nerves, and other cells. The pulp nourishes the tooth and helps it grow.

If the pulp inside your tooth becomes infected or diseased, it cannot heal on its own. Instead, the tissue will gradually start dying. This may be accompanied by tooth sensitivity, pain, and other dental emergencies. However, if your tooth is still viable, timely and proper treatment will help remove the infection from inside the tooth and restore it.

Root canal therapy helps to relieve dental pain, prevent reinfection, preserve the structure of the tooth and prevent tooth loss. That way, the procedure goes a long way in restoring the function of your teeth as well as your smile.

Are You a Good Candidate for the Treatment?

Now that you know what a root canal is, you may want to find out if you are a candidate for the procedure. The best way to determine whether or not you need root canal treatment is to visit your dentist. Signs you may need root canal therapy include:

  • Prolonged tooth sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Severe tooth or jaw pain
  • A chipped or cracked tooth
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Pimples on the gums
  • Uncharacteristic tooth discoloration
  • Loose tooth
  • Tooth decay or infection

How the Procedure Is Done

Root canal treatment is usually not painful. However, you need to know what to expect in order to prepare for the procedure. Treatment will typically involve the following steps.

Before the actual treatment begins, your dentist will examine the affected tooth to determine the nature and extent of the problem. This may involve a physical examination of the oral cavity as well as taking an X-ray.

1. Preparing the Area

The dentist will administer local anesthesia to numb the area and make you feel more relaxed. Next, the professional will place a dental dam over the affected area to isolate the tooth. This helps to keep the area around the tooth dry and free of saliva during the treatment.

2. Cleaning the Roots

The dental expert will then drill through the affected tooth, effectively creating an opening that allows them to access the roots. Next, they will remove the pulp from the tooth. Also, an antibacterial and antiseptic solution is used to treat the infection and eliminate bacteria in the root canals.

3. Shaping the Canals

Once the tooth has been thoroughly cleaned, your dentist will use tiny instruments to shape the space for filling. The process involves enlarging and making the canals a regular shape to ensure they are ready to receive the filling material. The space is then cleaned a second time.

4. Filling the Canals

Next, the dentist will fill the interior of the tooth with a biocompatible rubber-like material called gutta-percha. This material replaces the pulp in the tooth. Adhesive cement is added to ensure the canals are completely sealed. This helps to keep bacteria out, effectively preventing future infections.  The dentist will also place a temporary filling over the access hole to seal it.

5. Adding the Crown

In case of significant damage or a root canal on a back tooth, you will need to return to your dentist for a crown or other restoration. During the appointment, your dentist will remove the temporary filling. A permanent crown is then placed over the tooth to protect it, provide strength and ensure long-term stability. That way, the tooth is restored to full function.

A simple root canal will take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour. However, the appointment may take up to 90 minutes if the case is severe.

What to Expect During Recovery

After your procedure, your dentist will prescribe medication to help manage pain and give you instructions on post-treatment care. Below is what you can expect during recovery.

Initial recovery period: Due to the local anesthesia used during the procedure, your mouth will be numb for a few hours after treatment. As the medication wears off, you may experience tenderness or mild soreness in the area.

Tooth sensitivity: If there was pain or infection before the procedure, your tooth may be sensitive for the first few days following treatment. However, anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen will help to alleviate the problem.

Chewing and biting: Before your dentist fully restores the treated tooth, you should avoid chewing directly on the tooth. Also, avoid sticky foods, hot liquids, and hard foods.

Resuming activities: You should be able to go back to work, school, and other activities right after the procedure. However, you may want to take the rest of the day off if your job involves a lot of public speaking or if you work with the public.

Recovery time: For most patients, root canal recovery takes less than a week. During this period, remember to take care of your teeth to maintain good oral health. In case of severe pain or discomfort that lasts longer than one week, call your dentist.

In summary, what is a root canal? This is a serious procedure that should be performed by a highly-skilled dental specialist. As such, you should take the time to choose the ideal dentist to do your root canal therapy.

At Summit Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, we offer root canals for patients with decayed or infected teeth. The good news is that root canal treatment is not painful, will save your natural teeth, and help improve your oral health.

Contact us today to learn more. If you are experiencing tooth pain or inflammation, schedule your appointment now!