You’re not unlike most people — the term “root canal” can send shivers down spines. However, preconceived notions that root canal treatment is filled with pain and discomfort are nothing more than outdated myths. In fact, root canal treatment doesn’t cause pain but actually relieves it. Advances have made the treatment a virtually pain-free experience, many times accomplished in a single visit.
Despite this, many patients still don’t exactly know what to expect and what root canal treatment is. Hopefully the answers to your questions will make you feel at ease — so ask away.
Depending on the cause, symptoms can be numerous and varied:
The procedure begins by administering a local anesthetic to relieve pain. This will numb the tooth and surrounding area so that the treatment is no more uncomfortable than a filling. A common misconception is that root canal treatment is a painful experience when in actuality, it’s quite the opposite.
A small opening in the chewing surface of your tooth is created to gain access to the pulp. Very small instruments are used to remove dead and dying tissue and clean the pulp from the inside, allowing the root canals to be cleaned and disinfected. The canals are specially “shaped” and prepared so that they can be sealed with biocompatible filling materials. They are coated with an adhesive cement to ensure that they are completely sealed to prevent future infection.
It is becoming increasingly common today for root canal specialists to use microscopes for these intricate and detailed procedures to make the cleaning and shaping process more precise and efficient.
For the first few days after treatment, your tooth may feel tender or sensitive, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. Most discomfort can be relieved by over-the-counter (OTC) medication like aspirin or ibuprofen. If you have discomfort or pain that lasts more than a few days or if there are other increasing symptoms, call your dentist. Prescription medications including antibiotics may be indicated.
You should not chew or bite on the treated tooth until you have seen your dentist, particularly if part of the tooth has been lost to decay, a large filling or trauma. A crown or other restoration is usually needed to further protect and restore the tooth to full function and is extremely important in ensuring long-term success. Contact your dentist as soon as possible to arrange for any necessary treatment.
Root canal infection can spread into the bone immediately around the root end if left untreated, although it usually remains localized to the area. An association has been shown between periodontal (gum) and to a lesser extent, endodontic (root canal) infection and some systemic (general) body diseases, but it is rare in an otherwise healthy person. Be safe, don’t wait to get a root canal treatment done; just because it has stopped hurting doesn’t mean it’s not infected. Root canal treatment is designed to disinfect the tooth and stop spread of infection making it safe and effective.