Dentists understand that it is vital to maintain our oral health by taking good care of our teeth. In some cases, doing so means performing restorative dental work to help preserve your teeth and gums. A common procedure used to do so is root canal treatment. But what does root canal treatment consist of, and when is it necessary to perform one?
Understanding Your Teeth
To discover the purpose and necessity of a root canal, we must first learn about the makeup of our teeth and how they are affected by oral health issues. A tooth is coated in a hard mineral layer called enamel that acts as a barrier around the delicate inner workings of the tooth.
Under our enamel lies the dentin, which is a layer of tissue that makes up most of a tooth’s mass. Though dentin is made up of hardened tissue, it is softer than enamel. Its functions are to support the enamel, mitigate the forces present when we bite down on something, and transfer sensations from the enamel to the nerves, accounting for the feelings of heat and cold on your teeth.
The innermost layer of our teeth is called the pulp, and it is a living layer of soft tissue made up of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The pulp sits within the root canal, which extends from below the gum line up into the crown of a tooth.
What Is Root Canal Treatment?
Now that we understand the basics of tooth anatomy, let’s discuss root canal treatment and its necessity. Root canal treatment, which is sometimes referred to as root canal therapy, is a procedure used to extract the pulp from your teeth.
Why would dentists need to remove such a vital part of your tooth? Cavities and other damage to the enamel expose the layer of dentin underneath to bacteria and acid. Dentin contains tubules that lead directly to the pulp, allowing blood and nutrients to freely spread through the tooth. However, these tubules also allow bacteria to infiltrate the pulp.
If this bacterial invasion goes untreated, the pulp will eventually become infected. Due to the pulp’s connection to the soft tissues of your jaw, it’s not difficult for this infection to spread to other parts of your mouth once it takes hold. Advanced bacterial infection can cause several oral health issues, such as:
- Severe toothaches
- Periodontal disease
- Tooth decay
- Weakening of the tooth structure
How To Know If You Need Root Canal Treatment
A variety of oral health conditions can prompt a trip to the dentist. However, not all of them require root canal treatment to resolve. And because many patients would rather avoid going through root canal treatment, the question of when the procedure is necessary comes up often.
The conditions that require root canal treatment have signs and symptoms that you can observe. Be sure to communicate with your dentist about how you’re feeling and what effects you may be experiencing if you encounter any of these symptoms:
- Intense pain that comes on suddenly and lasts for long periods
- Bumps, welts, or swelling that forms on the gums
- Increased sensitivity to hot or cold
- A swollen jaw, face, or neck
- Pain that occurs when you place pressure on the tooth
- Loose teeth
These symptoms are often indicators that an infection has taken hold within your pulp. In cases where the pulp becomes infected or damaged, root canal treatment remains one of the most effective methods of preserving your quality of life and health.
What Happens During Root Canal Treatment?
Root canal treatment is often performed in-office by a general dentist or a specialist called an endodontist. It begins with your dental care provider taking an X-ray of your mouth to establish which area requires treatment, discover the extent of the damage to the tooth, and confirm the necessity of the procedure.
A local anesthetic will be administered to numb the tooth and gums around the area. In some cases, depending on the circumstances and your level of anxiety, your dental provider can administer some form of sedative to help you relax. Once you are sufficiently numbed, the dental provider may use a dental dam to isolate the tooth being treated and keep the area clean and dry.
Root canal therapy starts with a hole being drilled into the affected tooth to access the infected pulp. Using special tools, the dental care provider removes the damaged or infected pulp and thoroughly flushes the root canal with various antimicrobial solutions. This process eliminates bacteria and disinfects the root canal.
Next, the canal is filled with a biocompatible material called gutta-percha. This material has exhibited properties that have made it the most effective method of filling a root canal over any other compound.
Finally, a traditional filling material is placed over the pulp to fully seal the tooth and prevent further bacterial infection. To protect a tooth that has undergone root canal therapy, it is typically recommended to have a dental crown placed on the tooth as well.
Is Root Canal Therapy Painful?
Many people consider root canal therapy to be one of the least pleasant experiences one could have at the dentist’s office. The procedure gained a reputation as a painful and unpleasant treatment that was typically the last resort before tooth extraction. However, in recent times, root canal treatment has received an improved perception.
Advances in dental techniques have contributed greatly to root canal treatment being seen as no worse than any other procedure. Skilled dentists and endodontists can ensure that a root canal treatment goes quickly and simply.
In addition, thanks to local anesthetic, root canal treatment is not painful. Depending on how much pain you were experiencing prior to having root canal treatment, you may experience some discomfort over the next 2-3 days while recovering. This can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
What Happens If You Don’t Receive Root Canal Treatment?
Oral health problems have a way of progressing to become worse and affect other areas of your mouth as well. An infection that takes hold in your gums or other soft tissues can easily spread. In addition, some oral health conditions and diseases can even affect other parts of your body as they spread and develop.
An infection in your tooth can reach the soft tissues of your gums, cheeks, palate, tongue, lymph nodes, and neck, damaging them in ways that adversely affect your quality of life. If left untreated, an infection in your tooth pulp can make it challenging to eat, speak, move your jaw, and even breathe. The infection may even become life-threatening, so the necessity and importance of root canal treatment cannot be overstated.
Your oral health is of the utmost importance. If you need a root canal treatment, it’s vital to turn to a team of professionals who can provide you with personalized care and exceptional quality.
So, please get in touch with us today. We’re proud to serve the patients of Nashville and want to help keep you healthy and smiling.