WHAT ARE ROOT CANALS?

A root canal helps you repair a decayed or infected tooth. The tooth’s nerve and pulp are clearly removed and sealed. Since a tooth’s nerve doesn’t play an important role in a tooth’s health and function after the tooth has emerged through the gums–Its only function is sensory–to provide the sensation of hot or cold. The presence or absence of a nerve will not affect the day-to-day functioning of the tooth. Dr. Papworth and Dr. Brown have extensive experience with root canals, but in tricky cases, they may refer you to an endodontist (a dentist specializing in root canals).

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS THAT A ROOT CANAL IS NEEDED?

Sometimes no symptoms are present; however, signs you may need a root canal include:

  • Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
  • Prolonged sensitivity/pain to heat or cold temperatures (after the hot or cold has been removed)
  • Discoloration (a darkening) of the tooth
  • Swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums
  • A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums

What to Expect with a Root Canal Procedure

Root canals have gained an undeserved reputation as something to be avoided, but the truth is, this dental procedure is designed to eliminate pain, not cause it.  In many cases, root canals are similar to fillings, except that we must drill deeper into the tooth in order to access and clear away infected pulp.  In situations where significant infection has set in, you may need an endodontic specialist to perform a surgical root canal.

What can you expect during the root canal procedure?  Once we’ve taken x-rays and determined the best course of action, we’ll start by administering local anesthetic, first by numbing your gums with a topical gel, and then delivering shots of Novocain to more fully numb your gums, teeth, and jaw.

Our goal is always to ensure a comfortable experience, so if you’re feeling anxious, we can also discuss the possibility of sedation dentistry to help you relax during the procedure.  It’s normal to feel some pressure during root canals as we work to clean and repair damage, but you should never feel any pain.

When the area is numb, a hole will be drilled in the tooth, much like when filling a cavity, except that it will go all the way to the pulp.  From there, we’ll work to remove decayed tissue using special files designed for this purpose, scraping away bacteria and nerve tissue that has been damaged.  Don’t worry – you no longer need the nerves in your pulp in order to enjoy fully functional teeth.  They simply sense hot and cold, and if you suffer from sensitivity, you probably won’t miss them.

As decayed tissue is scraped away, we’ll flush the area with water and/or sanitizing, antiseptic solution to rinse away particulates.  When this process is complete, the tooth will be thoroughly cleaned to ensure that no bacteria or decaying tissue remains, after which we can seal the tooth.

In some cases, we may hold off on sealing the tooth and schedule a second appointment to ensure that no bacteria remain to further damage your tooth.  In this case, we’ll provide a temporary filling to keep food and bacteria out. 

When we’re satisfied that all decay and bacteria have been removed, a rubber filler material will be injected into the roots to seal them against further infection.  A filling or crown will then be placed in the hole above to restore full function and appearance.

Following root canals, you’ll receive care instructions.  It’s normal to experience some tenderness and discomfort following the procedure, just as you might after a filling.  These symptoms can typically be treated with over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen, although we can discuss the potential for prescription medication for patients that have a low pain threshold.

If you have a temporary crown, it’s best to avoid eating hard foods or chewing on that side of your mouth until your permanent restoration is complete.  If you continue to experience significant pain, pressure, or swelling even several days after your root canal procedure, contact our office immediately.