If you’re going to have your first root canal treatment, you must be feeling really apprehensive about it. After all, you have heard so many scary stories about it and all you have heard is that it causes pain, which is actually one popular myth in dentistry.
To get the fact straight: root canal treatment doesn’t cause pain, it relieves it. And when you know everything about it, you’ll know why it’s just much ado about nothing.
Why Root Canal Treatment Is Needed
Your tooth is made up of three parts – enamel, dentin and the pulp chamber. The pulp chamber houses the root canal system and the pulp of the tooth, which is basically a living tissue that keeps the tooth alive. The pulp includes blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues. This pulp is what creates the surrounding hard tissues of the tooth during childhood.
When the pulp of the tooth becomes infected, it becomes hard to save the tooth, not to mention the acute pain it causes. This infection or inflammation in the pulp can be caused by deep tooth decay or repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or traumatic damage. Gum disease can also lead to the inflammation of the pulp.
When the pulp becomes infected, it causes swelling and pressure inside the tooth and since it has nowhere to go, it causes extreme tooth pain and eventually damages the pulp. This damage is irreversible and once the pulp dies, the pain may subside temporarily but return later as an acute and painful infection of the surrounding tissues. Hence, a root canal treatment becomes necessary to save the tooth and prevent other problems.
Can Your Dentist Perform Root Canal Treatment
Generally, all dentists can perform root canals, which means your family dentist can most likely perform it. However, in certain cases, your dentist might refer you to an Edodontist, a root canal specialist.
Edodontists receive two or more years of advanced residential training in the diagnosis and management of the diseases and disorders of the dental pulp and in the diagnosis of dental pain. Their focus is therefore on saving teeth.
Before The Treatment Begins
- History and examination
The dentist will first take your thorough history and then examine your teeth to find out which tooth and what is exactly causing the pain. This will include an X ray of the tooth and the surrounding area.
- Anti-anxiety medications or sedatives
If you are nervous, make sure you ask the dentist about any anti-anxiety medication or an oral sedative that could relax you. Make sure you ask this ahead of time so you know what options you have.
- Removing the decay or the source of infection
Before the root canal treatment begins, the source of infection, like a decay, is removed. This could be done in an initial visit or the same visit. The tooth is then examined to determine whether it’s possible to save it. For example, if the pulp is fractured or if the problem is because of gum disease, it might not be possible to save the tooth.
What To Expect During The Treatment
Knowing what is going to come during the treatment ahead of time is more than half the battle. When you know what to expect, you’ll be less anxious and nervous about the treatment.
- The area is first numbed
Local anesthesia is injected to numb the tooth to be treated. Hence, you don’t feel any pain because of the numbness.
- A dental dam is placed over the tooth
A dental dam is a thin sheet of rubber or vinyl that’s placed over the affected tooth and the adjacent teeth. The affected tooth protrudes out of a hole punched in the dam. This isolates the tooth from other teeth. This allows the root canal treatment to be carried out in a sterile environment free from bacteria found in the rest of the mouth.
- A hole is drilled to get access to the root canal system
A small hole is drilled on the chewing surface of the tooth (back tooth) or the back of the tooth (front tooth) to get access to the root canal system. This doesn’t cause any pain as the area is already numb.
- The dead pulp is removed
The pulp is removed using special tools. Since the area is numb and the pulp is already dead or dying, the process doesn’t cause any pain. And when all the nerves are removed from the tooth, the tooth can no longer feel any pain by itself.
- The canals are cleaned and disinfected
The canals are washed with antiseptic solutions to clean them.
- Canals are shaped
Using flexible instruments, canals are shaped so they can receive root canal filling. They are again washed and cleaned to remove any root canal debris before they are filled and sealed.
- Canals are filled and sealed
Root canals are filled using filling material, usually a rubber like material called gutta-percha. It’s a thermoplastic material that’s heated and compressed to fill the root canals and seal them. Using an adhesive cement, a sealer, the gutta-percha seal the root canals. The sealing is an important process to prevent reinfection of the canals.
- The access hole is filled
A filling material is used to fill the access hole that was drilled for treatment.
The dental dam is then removed. And the procedure is completed.
After The Treatment
After-effects of the treatment include some discomfort and pain that can easily be managed through pain killers.
The dentist prescribes an antibiotic to treat or prevent infection after the treatment. Make sure you follow her advice.
- Restoration of the tooth
Your tooth will require a permanent restoration that might include a filling or a crown to restore the lost tooth structure because of the decay. This will completely seal the top of the tooth and is important for preventing reinfection with bacteria from the mouth.
Knowledge is Empowerment
When you know what’s going to come, why you are going for the treatment, and how it’s going to be done exactly, you’ll feel empowered and less anxious.
Remember, root canal treatment doesn’t cause pain. It relieves it and saves your teeth.