The center of each tooth is filled with blood vessels, nerves and living tissue. Sometimes, because of trauma or tooth decay, this living tissue becomes infected or traumatized and begins to die. This process can be quite painful, or it can proceed without you even knowing about it. Regardless, if the living tissue in the tooth starts to die, it must be removed or else our bodies will harbor chronic infection that cannot be killed with antibiotics alone and that can affect our hearts and our overall health.
Root canal therapy is the means by which this dying and infected tissue is removed. Contrary to popular belief, a root canal does NOT have to be painful. So why do we always hear about how painful a root canal is? Probably because the process of tooth death hurts, which is what brings most patients in to receive a root canal. But the root canal procedure itself is usually completely painless. In addition, after the root canal is performed, often the pain is significantly better and sometimes there is no pain at all. So root canal therapy can actually make a tooth feel better!
Root canal therapy involves removing the dead or dying tissue within a tooth and replacing it with a rubbery material. Some people have the misconception that when you get a root canal, you lose your tooth. This is not true. A root canal is simply a procedure used to treat the root of the tooth. Root canal therapy is approximately 90% successful. If the root canal fails, it can be redone. When this is the case, the success rate decreases to around 80%. In our office, if an old root canal starts to fail, we usually recommend extracting the tooth altogether and replacing the tooth with a dental implant or bridge, both of which have higher success rates.
How do I know if I need a root canal?
It’s sometimes difficult to tell on your own if you need a root canal, but some of the common signs may include swelling or puffiness around the tooth, pain, a bad taste around that tooth, sensitivity to biting pressure or sensitivity to hot and cold. However, these symptoms are not always present and sometimes a tooth can become severely infected or die without you even knowing it. We can show you any evidence suggesting you may need a root canal and discuss if this option is right for you.
So why get a root canal?
If the tooth has become infected or is dead or dying, a root canal is the best way to fight the infection and still keep your own tooth.
So what can I expect when I get a root canal?
Depending on a variety of factors including what the shapes of the roots are, how many there are and how difficult it is to access your tooth, we may do the root canal in our office, or we may elect to refer you to a root canal specialist. We’ll do whatever is best for your pocketbook while still giving us the greatest possible chance for success. You’ll be numb and probably won’t feel the procedure. We drill a tiny hole in the top of the infected tooth and clean out any infected or dead tissue inside the tooth. Then we fill the tooth with a synthetic material, and put a temporary filling in the tooth. Once we decide that the procedure was successful (usually this takes at least a week or more), then we can put a permanent filling in the tooth or, for back teeth, we’ll usually recommend a crown.