Ever heard someone say they’d rather have a root canal than do something? Popular culture depicts the root canal as one of the most dreadful dental procedures there is. However, it isn’t the procedure that’s painful, but the problems that necessitate having a root canal.
A root canal is needed when a tooth becomes infected or badly decayed down to the nerve and pulp, which is the soft tissue at the core of the tooth. Signs of infection may range from no symptoms at all to a sensitivity to heat and cold to severe pain.
If your dentist or endodontist (a dentist specializing in diseases of the dental pulp) recommends a root canal, the procedure typically involves one to three steps:
X-rays and Preparation – Your dentist will take an x-ray of your tooth to see the extent of the infection. He/she will then numb the affected area to decrease the chance of you feeling any significant pain or discomfort. The dentist will also place a rubber dam around the tooth to keep the area dry and free of saliva during the treatment.
Cleaning and Sealing – Next, the dentist will drill an access hole into the tooth and remove all decayed pulp and nerve tissue, using a file that cleans and scrubs the root canals of the tooth. This can take several hours depending on the extent of the decay. Once the canal is thoroughly clean, the dentist will use a rubber compound to fill the inner canal of the tooth. If the area is badly infected, however, the dentist may choose to wait a week or so until the infection fully clears.
Filling – Since most teeth that need a root canal are usually damaged extensively by decay, further restoration is usually in order. This could involve installation of fillings, crowns or posts.
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