How Root Canal Procedures Work | Treat Infections
Root canal therapies are dental procedures that work by targeting the center of the tooth, called the “pulp.” The pulp may be soft, but it’s filled with blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue that help your tooth grow. Once infections are removed we can do further treatment like fillings and dental crowns to prevent missing teeth and tooth loss.
One survey found that 59% of people are afraid of root canals and 41% would rather swim with sharks than have a root canal.
If you’re one of our patients, or potential patients, who is scared to have a root canal performed, we’re going to try and ease your mind by explaining exactly what this procedure entails.
In order to perform the root canal we use local anesthesia to ensure that your mouth is fully numb before the procedure begins. You might feel pressure during the root canal, but you shouldn’t feel pain. We will always take a pre-operative X-ray to assess the root anatomy
When Do You Need a Root Canal?
If decay is allowed to progress, well past the point of a cavity, you may have the pulp of your tooth become infected, inflamed or injured. As long as the “crown,” of the structure of the tooth above your gums is structurally stable, it’s possible to remove the pulp.
When we’re able to remove the pulp by itself, we’re able to save the remaining structure of the tooth, which is the best-case scenario.
The pulp of the tooth can be damaged for a variety of reasons, including:
- An untreated cavity is able to progress and deep decay occurs
- Multiple procedures were performed on the tooth
- Previous dental bridge placed
- Irritation of pulp from Veneer cement
- Adjacent implant too close to root
- Cracks or chips occur on the tooth
- Wisdom tooth impaction
- Injury to the tooth lead to the tooth being damaged
Injury doesn’t need to result in cracking of the tooth for the pulp to be damaged. If, for example, you were hit in the mouth while playing sports, there’s a chance that the pulp became damaged in the process without any physical signs.
Additional symptoms may include heat around the gums or swelling.
In most cases, we can perform the root canal in our office. If a complex root canal is needed along with a high powered microscope, we may refer you out to an endodontist.
How Root Canals are Performed
Root canals are performed right in our office, and the procedure is somewhat similar to when you have a cavity filled in the initial stages. The procedure itself is more complex, but you'll still go through the following stages:
Step 1: Preparation and Anesthetic
Preparing you for the procedure at Lighthouse Dental Centre requires a dental assistant bringing you into the treatment room. You'll sit down in one of our chairs, and a bib will be placed around your neck to protect against potential stains.
Once the prep stage is over, we’ll move on to the anesthetic.
First, the dentist will apply numbing medication on the gums surrounding the tooth. The numbing agent will take a few minutes to work and will be followed by an injection of a local anesthetic that is injected in the gum.
The needle used will look scary to some patients, but the entire process is over in seconds. You may feel a warm sensation or sharp pinch, but within seconds, it’s all over. In a few minutes, your gums surrounding the tooth and the tooth will be numb.
We'll make sure that you don’t feel pain and are fully numb before we begin working on your tooth. Sometimes, we may need to inject more anesthetic because the infection impacts the effectiveness of the anesthesia. If dental anxiety is a concern we offer sedation dentistry to enhance your comfort during the procedure.
Step 2: Removing Your Tooth’s Pulp
Once numb, we’ll make a small opening on the top of the tooth to try and expose the pulp that is damaged or infected. The dentist will remove the pulp and also clean all of the pathways, or canals, which are in the tooth with a file.
Step 3: Sealing the Tooth
Your root canal isn’t over just yet. We'll need to clean, disinfect and then fill and seal the tooth. Sealing ensures that the area we just cleaned inside of the tooth remains free of saliva.
A paste and material that is similar to rubber will seal the tooth.
Depending on if the tooth is infected or not, we may prescribe antibiotics to ensure that the infection is cleared fully. For a lot of our patients, antibiotics aren’t required after the treatment.
Step 4: Filling the Tooth
Finally, a temporary or final filling will be placed at the top of the tooth where the pulp was removed. The filling will be either temporary or permanent and will stop food particles from filling the hole left in the tooth.
Sometimes, primarily in the case of back teeth, we’ll put a permanent crown on the tooth rather than fill in the hole. The crown will be more realistic in both appearance and function. Since you chew primarily with your back teeth, the crown adds an additional layer of protection to the tooth.
What Happens After the Root Canal?
You’ve just underwent a major dental procedure, so it’s perfectly normal for your tooth and gums to feel sore when the anesthetic wears off. The gums may be swollen, and if you do have discomfort or swelling, we’ll often recommend that you take Advil or Tylenol to alleviate your symptoms.
There are times, however, when we recommend coming into our office.
You'll want to seek help if your pain or discomfort don’t start to subside. Every day after the procedure, you should feel a little less pain until you feel normal again. If you’re not experiencing relief, give us a call and we’ll schedule an appointment with you.
There are some cases when recurring pain means that additional cleanings need to be performed. Oftentimes, these sessions will be required in only the most severe cases.
You may even come into our office, and we may find that a temporary pain reliever is all that you need to find relief.
A few key points to remember are:
- Pain should last only for a few days and be mild
- Practice good dental hygiene
- Call us if your pain lasts longer than three days
You'll want to avoid chewing on the tooth until a crown has been placed on the top of it or it has been permanently filed. We recommend that you resume normal activities as early as the next day after the procedure.
A few tips to ensuring that your root canal is a success are:
- Avoid eating on the side of the mouth where you had the root canal
- Avoid eating hard foods while the tooth heals
- Brush your teeth twice daily
- Floss your teeth at least once a day
- Reduce drinking sugary drinks or eating sugary foods
- Continue coming into our office for routine dental cleanings
- If you tooth begins to discolor we may need to do some internal tooth whitening
- Being aware we can still move your tooth with Invisalign even if it has been root canaled
If you follow this basic advice, you’ll be able to enjoy a successful root canal.
Root Canal Risks
Root canals are a serious procedure that is our last effort to save your tooth. We may begin the root canal and find that the damage is too intense or that the remaining structure is frail. In this scenario, we may need to remove the tooth completely and use one of our other services to replace the tooth.
In cases where antibiotics aren’t successful, an abscess can form because the infection is left behind.
Can Root Canals Cause Cancer?
Root canals have a stigma of being overly painful and make many people scared to come into the dental office. Oftentimes, you can avoid having a root canal by treating cavities early on and maintaining proper dental hygiene.
Weston Price, a dentist from the 1920s, circulated a myth that root canals cause cancer. While at the time, the public was shocked by his findings, researchers have since disproven these myths and found that Price’s tests were inaccurate and flawed.
Price believed that a root canal still allowed for toxins to form in the tooth.
He believed that these toxins could lead to a variety of health problems, including:
- Heart disease
Our Thoughts on Price’s Myth
We know, with today’s research, that Price’s theory was incorrect. Sadly, many people are still afraid that root canals cause cancer because of this very myth. The error on Price’s part is that his studies were very flawed and unreliable.
The main reasons why Price’s “evidence” should be ignored are:
- He was never able to control the conditions of the experiment
- All tests that he performed were in environments that weren’t sterile
- Researchers have since tried to replicate his studies and have been unable to do so
There are still some in the community that believe there’s a conspiracy among dental professionals who want to hide the fact that root canals cause cancer. The main issue is that there have been no peer reviews, at least up until the time this article was written, that can link root canals and cancer.
Still, the myth is alive and well. People claim they had a root canal and now have cancer. The issue is that they’re not considering other factors, such as lifestyle, smoking, exposure to chemicals and other factors.
Sealants keep the canals of the tooth clean. Furthermore, there have been studies done that show that teeth that aren’t properly treated and become infected can lead to many serious health conditions.
It's always better to have major dental procedures performed when necessary than to allow the tooth to become infected or damaged further.
Unnecessary Fears Surrounding Root Canals
If you’re afraid that a root canal can cause other health issues, you’ll be happy to know that your fears are unfounded. There has been no evidence connecting health issues to root canal procedures.
We recommend that if you need a root canal, talk to one of our dentists about your concerns.
We're more than happy to walk you through the entire procedure, risks and recovery and its role in the overall cosmetics of your smile. We'll also listen to any concerns that you have and provide our honest, educated advice on the topic. In 99.99% of cases, we’re able to relieve the undue stress that you’re experiencing.
Our patients are often more than happy to be able to save their existing tooth with a root canal. The root canal will stop the remaining teeth from moving out of place and help you maintain your bite. When it comes to eating, a root canal makes it easier and more natural to chew and eat rather than having the tooth extracted.
Thanks to the advancements in endodontic treatment, we’re able to provide root canal procedures that are:
Root canals are routine procedures, and while they can certainly be scary at first, we will make sure that the tooth is numb and the anesthetic kicks in fully before beginning. Pain is mild, and for most of our patients, Advil or Tylenol is all that’s required to alleviate discomfort.
Within just a few days, the pain will subside, and you won’t have to worry about the tooth being uncomfortable to eat with or causing pain.