Last year more than 20 million American had a root canal procedure done – that’s right, just last year alone! Understanding more about how root canals occur will allow us to take the necessary precautions to avoid having them in the first place. A root canal is the process of removing infected, injured, or dead pulp from your tooth. “Pulp” is defined here as the nerve deep inside the tooth.
Why Do Dentists Perform Root Canals?
If your dentist is recommending a root canal, you have a tooth that is badly decayed or infected. When the tooth pulp is damaged, root canals are performed to take out the damaged nerve and pulp before cleaning out and sealing the inner workings of the tooth. Although patients often dread this procedure because they fear it will be painful, it is actually no different that the discomfort felt when getting a cavity filled.
When the nerves or pulp inside of a tooth become damaged or infected, bacteria are able to multiply inside of the tooth. These bacteria may then cause a pus-filled pocket known as an abscess to form. Infection can also occur within the root canal of a tooth, and this issue may result in serious problems like facial swelling, bone loss around the tooth root, and excessive drainage.
What Signs Should You Look For?
It may be difficult for you to know if you need a root canal on your own, as the symptoms that you experience are often similar to those of a standard cavity. A tooth can be broken into three main parts. There’s the enamel (the hard exterior), the dentin (softer middle layer), and dental pulp (soft tissue inner layer). The dental pulp is a vital part of the tooth but can be sufficiently traumatized through exposure to oral bacteria which enters in through a fracture in the tooth. This can lead to a tooth beginning to die. This will be when pain and discomfort is be experienced in the affected tooth, especially when biting and chewing. Extreme temperatures may also trigger pain, and it can be so severe that it wakes you while you are sleeping.
If you notice any of these symptoms, your dentist can help you to better understand the cause. There are several signs that he or she may spot that can also indicate that you are in need of a root canal:
- Gum lesions, as infected teeth can cause small bumps to form along the gum line.
- Teeth that have become darker in color, as this shows that some type of change has taken place inside of the teeth.
- Dark spots that appear on a tooth in an x-ray.
- Exposed nerves, which signify that the pulp tissue inside a tooth has been damaged.
How Will My Dentist Diagnose the Problem?
Your dentist can perform certain tests to determine if a root canal procedure is necessary to fix your teeth. An x-ray is the most commonly performed exam, and they can help to determine the exact tooth that is causing you so much pain. Other testing can help to determine if there is a problem with your teeth, such as percussion testing, which involves your dentist tapping on your tooth with a small tool to see if pain is experienced. Electric pulp testing may also be used, and electrical currents will be utilized to determine the sensitivity of a tooth. These tests together can provide definitive proof on whether or not a root canal is necessary.
Root Canals and Crowns
Some people might say that a root canal is very costly, and to have a crown on top is even more expensive! But in order to make sure a tooth treated with a root canal to sustain chewing forces and to last a long time without fracturing, it is important put a crown on it.
A dental crown serves to make a tooth more solid and maintain its integrity after it has suffered destruction, either from tooth decay or from a trauma. A tooth that must get a root canal probably already had a very large cavity that had reached the pulp chamber where the nerve is located. After the dentist had properly cleaned the tooth from all decay and that the root canal treatment is completed, there usually doesn’t remain sufficient healthy tooth material to restore the tooth with a filling. It is then necessary to complete the treatment by a post and a crown to ensure that the tooth will not break eventually.
There are however certain situations where a tooth’s nerve is irritated after a trauma and not because of a destructive dental cavity. If the tooth that had the trauma is not broken or cracked, and if it did not already have a big filling, then some dentists believe that it’s possible to do a root canal without a crown. In this case, a filling (with or without a post) is enough to restore such a tooth.
Tips To Prevent a Root Canal
Through proactive care however root canals can be prevented all together. If you’ve ever had a root canal before, you know that the pain that prompts a visit to the dentist for the procedure can strike out of nowhere. For some, the pain is incredibly intense. There’s no need to experience this pain and having to pay for a procedure if it all can be prevented in the first place.
The easiest way to prevent things from progressing to this point is to brush and floss on a daily basis. This goes without saying but it must be said. Every day.
A tooth can also become infected from a crack or chip in the tooth, or even from an old filling. When a filling begins to fail, it can allow that bacteria to leak into the tooth and subsequently into the dental pulp. Seeing your dentist regularly to ensure your fillings aren’t leaking is the best way to prevent infection from getting deep into the tooth. Fillings don’t last forever. They must be checked regularly to ensure they are still doing their job.
In Pain? Contact Friedman’s Today!
If you do happen to be far off the deep end and you’re beginning to experience pain, don’t put it off for another minute. Don’t wait to have it treated. That’s the worst thing you can do. Contact your dentist immediately to have a root canal procedure scheduled or an appointment made to determine what the issue is.
Last Reviewed by Dr. Eli Friedman on 11/30/2020