Root canal: The name of the procedure has the power to induce dread in people. “I need to have a root canal done.” Someone laments and you answer: “Oh.  I’m sorry.” However, if you ask people what a root canal is or why they’re so painful, you’re likely to get all sorts of answers. As with many things, people fear what they don’t understand. But a little knowledge can go a long way towards alleviating that fear. So let’s take a few minutes to learn about the dreaded root canal.

How do I Know if I Need a Root Canal?

A root canal treatment, commonly referred to as simply a “root canal”, becomes necessary when the tissues inside your tooth, called the pulp, becomes infected. This usually happens as the result of deep decay (cavities) or a chip or crack in the surface of your tooth.  The infection in the pulp can spread down through the root canals of your teeth into tissues of your gums forming an abscess which is a very severe and painful infection that can be dangerous to your overall health.

Signs that a root canal may be necessary are sensitivity of the tooth to hot and cold, sensitivity to touch or while chewing, and inflamed and sensitive gums around the tooth. Informing your dentist of these and any other symptoms you may be having during exams will allow he or she to decide if a root canal is necessary and appropriate for your condition. Some dentists will perform root canals. Others will refer you to an endodontist. An endodontist is a dental specialist who specializes in treating the insides of your teeth.

The Root Canal Procedure

A root canal treatment involves your dentist or endodontist drilling down into the crown of your infected tooth and removing the infected pulp from inside the tooth and the root canals. As adults our teeth no longer require the pulp as it will continue to be nourished by the surrounding tissues. Once the pulp has been removed, a biocompatible material will be used to temporarily fill the now-empty space inside your tooth until restoration can begin. In some cases, where tooth decays has compromised one of the roots and made the tooth unstable, a tiny metal rod may need to be inserted down into the root to hold the tooth in place in your gums.  

Restoration is the process whereby a crown will be created and placed over your compromised tooth. Your dentist or specialist will create the crown, matching it to the natural hue of your teeth, and will use it to seal up the tooth. Within several days, the swelling of the inflamed tissues will go down and the “new” tooth can be used to chew and cleaned just like your natural teeth.

Is it Painful?

Many people avoid root canals due to the belief that the procedure will be painful or because they may have heard “horror stories” of complications from the procedure. Root canals may have been painful decades ago but with our modern technology and anesthetics, the procedure is only about as painful as having a filling placed. As far as the “horror stories” there was a myth propagated by poor research about a hundred years ago that root canal treatment led to you being susceptible to illnesses and disease. However, this was before the causes of these diseases and their transmission was fully understood.

So the big, bad root canal is actually not so scary. Instead it’s a helpful procedure designed to alleviate pain and save your natural teeth, allowing you to chew properly and smile confidently. As with most illnesses, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Brushing twice daily, flossing daily and scheduling regular exams with Dr. Alla Brown or Dr. Amanda Newberry at Lanier Family & Cosmetic Dentistry are all important steps to avoid needing a root canal, especially if your teeth have recently developed any chips or cracks. But if you do need a root canal, now you know there’s nothing to fear. To schedule with a Lanier Family dentist today, call 678.359.4707 or schedule an appointment online.

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