Why Root Canals are Nothing to Fear

A man at a dental exam

Every year, dentists perform about 15 million root canals in the United States. That’s potentially a lot of pain felt by many patients, but only if the procedure lived up to common misperception. The fact of the matter is that modern dentistry long ago conquered the problems that gave root canals the reputation as a torturous, painful treatment.

For most patients now, there’s no more pain in root canal therapy than for many other dental treatments, such as scaling or fillings, and since root canals can save teeth that might otherwise be lost, it’s often an important technique for preserving your oral health.

The PK Cosmetic and Family Dentistry providers are root canal experts, and they can help you get past any fears, concerns, or nervous feelings. The first step in easing your fear is understanding the process behind root canals and the reasons for it.

What is a root canal?

Root canals serve as a treatment for infected pulp, the soft tissue at the heart of your teeth that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Infection of the pulp occurs when a crack or chip in your tooth allows bacteria to invade.

The pulp lies beneath enamel and dentin and is essential as your tooth is developing, but less essential once the tooth is mature. Your adult teeth can survive and function just fine without the pulp.

Signs of infection

Sometimes, damage to a tooth exposes the pulp, and the decision to perform root canal therapy comes before any infection begins. In other cases, an infection starts without an obvious cause. Infected pulp often causes pain and discomfort, so signs that you might have an infection include:

  • Cracked or chipped teeth
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold food or drink
  • Pain while biting and chewing
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Deep tooth decay
  • Discoloration of the gums
  • Abcess at the base of a tooth

Sometimes, there are no clear symptoms of infection, but a compromised tooth shows up on a dental X-ray. Underscoring the importance of regular dental visits, problems found this way could mean that you’ll sidestep a painful issue with preemptive root canal treatment.

What to expect during a root canal

Root canals are an in-office procedure during which a small hole is made in the tooth to access the canal where pulp resides. Your dentist removes the pulp tissue and cleans the space inside the tooth before filling it with a biocompatible material such as gutta-percha.

The access hole is filled in much the same way as any cavity. Depending on the condition of the tooth, your dentist may recommend placing a crown on top to add strength to the tooth. With good care, a tooth with a root canal can last a lifetime.

Conquering your fear

A root canal is not a painful procedure; it’s more likely to relieve ongoing pain. Dental anesthetics keep you completely numb during the drilling and cleaning steps. Like normal fillings, you’ll remain numb for a few hours after. It’s common to feel some achiness for a day or two after your procedure, but it’s typically easy to manage this discomfort with over-the-counter medications.

There’s no perfect substitute for losing a natural tooth, but root canals often mean the difference between saving a tooth and extraction. Find out more about this procedure by calling PK Cosmetic and Family Dentistry at 703-994-4616, or by scheduling an appointment online. The practice offers same-day emergency dental care whenever possible.