Ideally, your teeth will last a lifetime, giving you a bright and happy smile for all of your days. However things do happen and sometimes teeth become damaged or diseased and may need repair or even replacing. One of the more common procedures used to address a damaged or infected tooth is a root canal. Root canals loom large in popular culture as one of the things people fear most about a trip to the dentist, due to their reputation as painful and invasive procedures. At one time that was true–root canals while necessary were painful and had a long recovery time. However, the techniques and materials used in root canals have come a long way over the last few decades and while not pleasant root canals are no longer dreadful for most patients. So, how do you tell if you need a root canal, and what will happen if you do? Let’s take a look.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a dental procedure used to save a tooth that has become badly damaged, decayed, or infected. The problems may result from a cracked tooth, untreated cavities, or a lost filling, and leads to the infection or irritation of the interior pulp and nerves of the tooth. If the damage is extensive enough, the dentist may choose to perform a root canal.
The procedure for a root canal goes something like this: the damaged tooth is inspected and anesthetized. Then the dentist removes the damaged pulp and nerve from the interior of the tooth, eliminating the source of infection and pain. This has no effect on the tooth’s function. The interior space of the tooth is then filled with a rubbery substance called gutta percha, and a crown is installed and the tooth is sealed. After a bit of recover–typically no more than a few days–the tooth functions normally and regular activities may resume.
Root canals have a reputation for being painful, but for most patients the discomfort is about on par with having a filling put in. This has to do with better tools and techniques and better anesthetics developed over the last several decades. Your dentist can explain which ones they’ll be using and can answer questions about your individual situation.
Do I Need a Root Canal?
So how do you know if you need a root canal, now that we know what one is? There are a number of signs that something might be wrong and that the damage might warrant a root canal. The number one sign is tooth pain, which may range from mild to severe and may come and go throughout the day. However, there are some other symptoms to be aware of. If you experience any of the following, you should contact your dentist immediately.
- Persistent tooth sensitivity, especially to heat or cold
- Sharp pain when chewing or biting
- Pimples on your gums
- Chipped or cracked teeth
- Swollen or painful gums
- Deep decay or darkened gums
These are all signs of a potentially serious problem that may require a root canal or other treatment. We can perform an exam and tell you for sure what’s going on and then advise a course of action.
So in conclusion, root canals are a common dental procedure to address serious problems with a tooth. They’re nothing to be scared of–just another technique your dentist has to help your teeth and gums stay healthy for a lifetime.