Understanding a Root Canal Procedure: Everything You Need to Know

Root canals have one purpose: to save a tooth that has become decayed or infected or both. Rather than simply pulling the tooth, which was the common remedy for hundreds of years, a root canal procedure is one of the most common restorative dental procedures today. They are considered safe and effective and have success rates of up to 98%.

In fact, the American Association of Endodontists reports that approximately 25 million root canal procedures are done in the United States each year. If your dentist has recommended a root canal for you, you probably have many questions and you may have some anxiety about the procedure.

In this article, we will give you the basics about root canals and address common questions and concerns.

What is a Root Canal Exactly?

Let’s distinguish between the structure of a tooth and the dental procedure known as a root canal. The procedure called a root canal is done by either your dentist or an endodontist. The derivation of this word is a combination of the Greek words  “endo” meaning “inside” and “odont,” the Greek word for “tooth.” 

Under the white enamel inside the tooth is a hard layer called dentin. Under the dentin is the pulp, which is a soft tissue that has nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. This pulp is contained in the part of the tooth called the root canal. Infection of the pulp occurs due to repeated dental procedures on the tooth, decay that has progressed into the root, or a crack or chip in the tooth that allows harmful bacteria into the tooth. The solution to perform a root canal procedure. During this, the infected pulp is removed and replaced with a man-made material that has no adverse effects on the tooth or a patient’s health.

If the infected tooth is not treated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body. In some cases, this can become life-threatening so follow the advice of your dental provider. A root canal is the best option in this case. 

This is a reminder, too, to maintain good oral health practices so that your teeth will never need a root canal at all.

When is a Root Canal Needed?

The procedure known as a root canal becomes an option when the pulp inside a tooth becomes infected or damaged. Along with damage or infection comes discomfort or pain. A root canal removes the source of the infection, maintains the structure of the tooth, and prevents any further damage or infection. However, if the infection is ignored, it can spread into the gums and other teeth in the area, leading to even more pain and damage.

Here are some common reasons for tooth damage or infection:

  • Severe tooth decay
  • Trauma to the tooth
  • Damaged pulp

In examples like these, a root canal removes the source of infection, which then also reduces any accompanying pain.

Does a Root Canal Hurt?

Even though root canals have a reputation as being a painful dental procedure, they are typically no more uncomfortable than having a cavity filled. Dental technology has also improved dramatically, so there is no need to fear having a root canal done.

Dental procedures are never completely comfortable, but the dentist or endodontist will numb the area sufficiently so you won’t experience pain. When you go home and the anesthetic wears off, you will probably have some soreness in your mouth and maybe some sensitivity to hot and cold. The use of over-the-counter pain relievers can help until your mouth is no longer sore. Your dentist can prescribe a stronger medication if necessary, but you likely will not need it.

What Happens During a Root Canal?

It always helps to know what is going to happen during any procedure, especially if you are anxious about dental work of any kind. So, here is a summary of what happens during a root canal once your dentist determines it is necessary:

#1 – Local Anesthesia

Your dentist will numb the area using a needle to inject the anesthesia into the proper area around the tooth.

#2: Access Point Created 

Using a drill or hand files, a small access point will be opened in the top of the tooth to provide direct access to the root canals.

#3: Infected Area is Removed

The infected pulp, bacteria, blood vessels, and other tissue will be removed through the access point using special instruments.

#4: Cleaning

Any remaining infection and the inner walls of the canals are cleaned out using files, reamers, and handpieces.

#5: Shaping of the Canal

The inside of the tooth is shaped and widened to prepare it for the filling material that will replace the pulp.

#6: Filling Inserted Into the Canal

The filling material, a rubber compound called gutta-percha, is inserted into the open canal.

#7: Access Point is Sealed

The access hole is sealed with a temporary filling, which will be replaced with a permanent filling at a later dental appointment. This prevents bacteria from entering the root canal, which would cause further infection.

#8: Final Restoration

The affected tooth will be further protected with some type of restoration, such as a crown, bridge, or veneer that is custom-made to match the surrounding teeth.

Although this outline seems lengthy, the first appointment for an average root canal can be completed in only 30 – 60 minutes. The length of time depends on the amount of infection and how many roots are involved. The second appointment to place the permanent filling would be much shorter.

You Can Rely on TLC Dental Center For an Effective Root Canal Procedure

A root canal has become one of the most common and most effective restorative dental procedures today. The goal with any root canal is to repair and save an infected or damaged tooth. 

Although many people believe a root canal is very painful, the truth is that the procedure is no worse than having a cavity repaired. Any anxiety you may have about undergoing a root canal can be alleviated with conscious sedation during the procedure and over-the-counter treatment afterward.

Dr. Julie Kardon here at TLC Dental Center routinely performs root canals and will be glad to discuss sedation with you, if needed. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!