A root canal is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth when the nerve of the tooth is affected by infection or decay. A tooth’s nerve and pulp can become irritated, inflamed, and infected due to deep decay; repeated dental procedures on a tooth; large fillings, a crack, or a chip in the tooth. It also can happen because of trauma to the face.
Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected and an abscess may form.
During a root canal procedure, the nerve of the tooth is removed, and the inside pulp canals are cleaned and sealed. The nerve is not vitally important to a tooth’s health and function – its only function is to give the sensation of hot or cold. The absence of a nerve won’t affect how your tooth works.
Root canal procedures have the reputation of being painful, but the procedure itself is no more painful than having a filling placed.
You can expect your root canal treatment visit to last anywhere between an hour and a half to two hours, depending on the complexity of the procedure.
Why Does Tooth Nerve Need to Be Removed?
When a tooth’s nerve tissue is damaged, it breaks down and bacteria begin to multiply within the nerve chamber. The bacteria and other decayed debris can cause an infection or abscessed tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of the roots of the tooth and happens when the infection spreads all the way past the ends of the roots of the tooth. An infection in the root canal of a tooth can also cause:
- Swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head
- Bone loss around the tip of the root
- Drainage problems extending outward from the root. (A hole can occur through the side of the tooth with drainage into the gums or through the cheek with drainage into the skin.)
What Are the Signs That a Root Canal Is Needed?
While sometimes no symptoms are present, you may notice these signs:
- Tooth sensitivity that lingers, 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
Root Canal Procedure
Local anesthesia will be applied to numb the area before attempting to access the center of the tooth. The decayed nerve tissue and bacteria are removed from the tooth and the area is cleaned out.
Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, a sealing paste and a rubber compound are placed into the root canal. A filling is put in to close the access hole created at the beginning of treatment.
The final step in the process involves completing the restoration of the tooth. After a root canal, the affected tooth will need a crown or other restoration to protect it, prevent it from breaking, and restore it to full function. The restoration usually requires a separate appointment from the root canal treatment.
Root Canal Recovery
After a root canal, your mouth will be numb for a couple of hours, but there is generally no downtime. Most people can go right back to work, school, or other activities, although most prefer to wait until the numbness is gone before eating.
For the first few days following the completion of a root canal, the tooth may feel sensitive due to tissue inflammation, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This usually can be eased with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve).
Until your root canal procedure is completely finished with a permanent filling in place or crown, try to avoid chewing with the tooth. This helps keep the area clean and may prevent a fragile tooth from breaking before it can be fully restored.
You will be given care instructions after each appointment. Brushing, flossing, and using an antiseptic mouthwash as you regularly would, as well as staying on top of your regular dental visits will aid in the life of your new root canal.
Root Canal Outlook
Root canal treatment is highly successful; the procedure has more than a 95% success rate. Many teeth fixed with a root canal can last a lifetime, although, on occasion, a tooth will have to be retreated due to new infections.
Dr. Mark J. Cantu, DDS
7101 W. Highway 71, Suite A-3
Austin, TX 78735
Most PPO Dental Insurance Accepted
Monday - Treatment Appt. Only
8 AM - 4 PM
Tuesday – Friday
7:30 AM – 3 PM