A root canal is a dental procedure that treats the soft pulp material of the tooth. This material is a mixture of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue that resides in a pulp chamber in the center of the tooth. It also continues deep through the roots of the tooth and into the bone, contained in areas known as canals. In a root canal procedure, the dentist first removes the infected pulp from the central chamber of the tooth, and then reshapes and smoothes the canal. Finally, he or she fills and seals the canal with a special restorative material.
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Why would I need a root canal?
A root canal is necessary when the nerve of a tooth becomes inflamed and the surrounding pulp becomes infected. Potential causes of root canals include trauma, deep decay, or a fractured cusp. The root canal process often allows the dentist to save a tooth which would otherwise need to be extracted.
At times, a tooth that needs a root canal has no symptoms. In most cases, however, symptoms are prevalent. These symptoms can include severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure, prolonged sensitivity or pain to heat or cold temperatures, discoloration of the tooth, or swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums surrounding the tooth.
If the tooth is not treated, an abscess could develop. Abscesses often cause severe pain, swelling, and pus drainage from a noticeable bump on the gum. Untreated abscesses can grow around the bone, damage further tissues, and even lead to systemic infections.
How is a root canal performed?
First, the tooth is completely numbed. You might feel a prick from the initial numbing shot, but most people report that this is minor and over quickly. Once the tooth is numbed, in most cases, the patient feels no sensations at all. A dental dam is then used to isolate the tooth. Finally, an access hole is made in the top of the tooth to allow for the removal of infected or dead nerve tissue.
Cleaning and Sealing
The tooth and root chambers are comprehensively cleaned. Then, special tools are used to reshape and smooth out the canals. Finally, the tooth and roots are filled with a cutting-edge biocompatible filling material to seal the tooth and prevent any new infection.
When appropriate, a post is cemented down one or more of the canals and a restorative buildup material is placed in the access hole. This prepares the tooth to support a permanent restoration. Finally, a crown or other permanent restoration is placed on the biting surface of the tooth. This helps to regain the strength and usefulness of the tooth.
How long will it take to heal?
In most cases, the lingering discomfort is roughly equivalent to that of a filling. Since pain is a common symptom of needing a root canal, you are likely to feel better immediately after the procedure than you did before. However, you might feel a bit of soreness from the dental dam and mild residual pain or soreness in the nerves around the tooth. Use over the counter pain relievers and avoid chewing on that tooth for a few days if this occurs. Of course, if you experience any extreme pain, call our office as soon as possible.
What are the possible complications of a root canal?
A root canal is generally a safe procedure, but like any major medical procedure there are very slight risks. The most likely, though still very rare, is a re-infection. This can happen over time if the sealing material breaks down, or more quickly if several canals are infected and one is missed. Again, these complications are rare, but should you experience pain or other signs of infection, call us immediately.
What should I expect after my root canal heals?
Root canal treatment has an effectiveness of approximately 95%, and many teeth that are treated this way last a lifetime. While you are awaiting your final crown or other restoration, try not to chew on the affected tooth. Once your final restoration is in place, your tooth will look like any other, and you can eat normally. Continue to practice good oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing.
Are there any alternatives to root canals?
The only alternative to a root canal for an infected tooth is extraction. The tooth can then be replaced with a bridge, implant, or partial denture. While these procedures have come a long way, and generally produce good results, nothing can match the strength and usefulness of your own natural teeth. Therefore, a root canal should be performed when possible.
At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.