Root canals are a fairly routine dental procedure, and many patients end up needing one at some point in their lives. A root canal is an endodontic treatment, which means the procedure is done on the inside of the tooth, where the pulp and root canals are housed.
A root canal is one of the more dreaded dental procedures, but knowing what to expect during and after the visit can help you feel better prepared.
Reasons for a Root Canal
A root canal is performed when the inside of the tooth is damaged and the pulp needs to be removed. Patients who present with tooth pain and sensitivity to hot and cold foods or liquids may need to have a root canal if the dentist determines the tooth’s pulp is infected.
While cavities are one way the pulp can become overtaken by bacteria, other potential causes of root canals include:
- A tooth injury: It only takes a miniscule crack in the tooth for it to allow bacteria to enter and begin to grow. The injury may be visible, such as with a broken tooth, or you may not be able to see it with the naked eye.
- Multiple dental procedures: Repeat procedures can weaken the tooth and increase its susceptibility to decay.
If the infected pulp is not removed, the infection may continue to spread to other areas, including the face, head and neck, and you may also experience some bone loss around the affected tooth in severe cases.
What to Expect at the Dentist
Your dentist will begin the procedure by explaining the process and asking if you have any questions before getting started. It’s normal to be a bit nervous, and it’s also a good idea to let your dentist know about any fears or reservations you have. Doing this allows the dentist extra time to explain what’s happening before completing a step and to check in with you frequently during the procedure.
The dentist will numb the area surrounding the affected tooth with a local anesthetic. It’s normal to feel some tingling, but let your dentist know if you start to have any trouble breathing or feel itchy. Once the anesthetic has had time to work, the dentist will prepare the area around the tooth so that it stays clean and as dry as possible during the procedure. This may involve covering the area with a dental dam and inserting cotton into your mouth to soak up any extra saliva.
During the root canal, the dentist enters the tooth through the crown and begins to remove the infected pulp. After both the pulp chamber and the root canals have been scraped clean, the dentist fills the space with a temporary filling that protects the tooth until the new crown is applied, normally at a follow-up visit.
The Recovery Process
You may have some mild discomfort after the anesthetic wears off, but most patients do not report significant pain after the procedure. In fact, they often feel much better if the tooth was causing problems. Possible complications can include infection or a piece of the tooth breaking off, but these are rare. Tell your dentist immediately if you notice any signs of infection. You may also notice that the treated tooth turns a grayish or yellow color. This is due to the nerve dying and does not pose any risks. If the discoloration bothers you, your dentist can recommend cosmetic corrections.