The word “root canal” sounds scary and most people don’t know what to expect at their first root canal. In the field of dentistry, the root canal is a procedure that has a bad reputation. Even though over 15 million root canals are performed each year, this dental procedure is perhaps the one that scares most people. 

If you’ve been told you need a root canal, you may be a little nervous about what to expect. And it may be tempting to delay the procedure. Okay, let’s bust your scary thought about root canals.

A root canal doesn’t hurt, and it’s not as scary as you think. It’s a simple process to relieve your tooth pain and save your smile. This page will give you everything you need to know about the root canal procedure and why you may need one. 

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal is also known as endodontic therapy in the dentistry world. It’s a dental procedure of removing bacteria from the infected tooth root to prevent further infection.  

There is a soft tissue called the pulp under the white enamel and a hard layer called the dentin. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue and creates the surrounding hard tissues of the tooth during development.

Due to unhealthy dental habits and improper dental care, something bacteria finds its way to the pulp and leads to infection. The infection can be highly painful and if not treated in time could lead to serious dental problems. 

What Can Cause Root Canal Infections? 

You may ask, how do bacteria pass through the hard surface of the teeth and reach the pulp area? There are lots of factors that can cause root canal infections, such as:

  • Unhealthy Oral Health – A tooth can be vulnerable to breakdown and decay if not properly cleaned, allowing bacteria to seep into the root of the tooth infecting the pulp.
  • Cracked or Broken Tooth – Everyday incidents like falls, trauma, teeth grinding, and motor accidents can cause fissures and cracks in a tooth. The cracks expose the pulp to bacteria that were previously unable to penetrate the outer layers of the tooth, the enamel, and dentin. 

  • Permanent Restoration Delay – Sometimes when a patient delays the placement of the crown or permanent restoration, a bacteria could find its way to the root. 
  • Tooth Cavity – Tooth cavity after treatment can also lead to a new root canal infection. 

Signs You Need a Root Canal

Human root canals are located in very complicated areas of the mouth. Most of the time the infection caused by bacteria stays undetected until it starts showing real signs. Here are some signs of root canal infections you may want to look for if you suspect root infection. 

  • Pain 

Pain is the most common sign of root infection. Usually, the pain intensifies when you put pressure on the affected tooth. It’s also important to note that root infection might not be the only cause of pain. Tooth pain can occur due to any reason, such as gum diseases, cavities, damaged filling, and more. 

Regardless of what is causing the pain, it’s a good idea to see your dentist if you have tooth pain. Early diagnosis can help you figure out if you need a root canal treatment or other procedures. 

  • Tooth Sensitivity To Heat and Cold  

If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity when you eat hot or cold food and drinks, it might be due to a tooth infection. Tooth sensitivity is associated with a dull ache or sharp pain. If the sensitivity lingers for an extended time, even when you stop eating and drinking, you may need a root canal. 

  • Tooth Darkening

An infection in the pulp can cause your tooth to become brown and yellowish, giving your teeth a darker look from the outside. Tooth pulps can die when there’s an inadequate blood supply, thus signaling a possible need for a root canal. 

Although tooth discoloration can have other causes, it’s always a good idea to see your dentist if you notice that a tooth is changing color.

  • Gum Swelling

Gum swelling can be caused by many factors including gum inflammation, cavity, or damaged teeth.  But there is also a high chance that a root infection is causing the gum to swell. Root infection swelling is caused by acidic waste products of dead pulp tissues, which may lead to swelling (edema) outside the root tip area.

Depending on how severe or mild the infection is, the swelling may come and go, maybe be tender or painful to touch. 

  • Injured Tooth 

You might also need a root canal if you have an injured tooth. A tooth that is cracked or chipped can let bacteria into the pulp area and cause infection. Even if your injured tooth is not cracked, you might still need a root canal because the injured teeth can damage the nerve of the tooth, causing inflammation, pain, and sensitivity. 

  • Tooth Mobility 

When you have an infected root base, the tooth will automatically feel looser. It’s similar to building a house, if the house doesn’t have a strong base (the root), the house will soon collapse. If you experience any unusual loose tooth, contact your dentist at the earliest. 

  • Dental Abscess

A dental abscess is a collection of pus that can form inside the teeth, in the gums, or in the bone that holds the teeth in place. A dental abscess can cause severe unease and bad breath and is visible via an enlarged or persistent red bump or pimple on the gum. 

The best way to treat dental abscesses is the root canal. Your dentist will drain the painful abscess and clean out the bacteria to alleviate the pain. 

  • Chronic Bad Breath

Bad breath is often associated with root canal infection and dental abscesses. If you notice persistent bad breath despite brushing, flossing, and using dental washes, understand that there is an infection probably present. And it needs to be handled with root canal procedures. 

7 Benefits Of Getting a Root Canal

If you see any of the signs mentioned above, you might need a root canal. And here are the benefits of getting endodontic therapy. 

  1. Virtually Pain-Free Procedure  – Root canal has a bad reputation due to the pain involved in it. But in reality, root canal treatment is virtually a pain-free procedure. With the use of modern techniques and anesthesia, patients won’t experience as much pain as compared to tooth extraction.
  2. Efficient & Cost-Effective  – Cost is a driving factor for most patients who’re looking for a dental procedure. The best part about a root canal is its efficient, cost-effective and most dental insurance plans cover endodontic therapy.
  3. Boosts Teeth Aesthetics – Most root canal surgery needs a dental crown as a shield. Anyone who undergoes endodontic treatment will need a crown to cover the damaged part. And what’s best about the crown is, it not only functions like natural teeth, but they look great too.
  4. Prevent Spread of Infection to Neighboring Teeth – Another great thing about the root canal is it prevents the spread of infection to other teeth. Just like any other infection, tooth infection also spreads when not treated in time. With the help of endodontic therapy, you not only eliminate the bacteria but also save your other healthy teeth.
  5. Prevent Tooth Loss – You might need to completely remove a tooth if the infection gets worse and is not treated in time. The only way to keep your teeth healthy is to go for a periodic dental checkup and take up root canal treatment if necessary.
  6. Preserve Jawbone  – A part of a jawbone stays intact until it has a tooth on it. Once the teeth are gone, the jawbone starts deteriorating and losing its density. With the help of a root canal, you can preserve your tooth and keep your jawbone intact.
  7. Boosts Oral and Overall Health – Poor oral health is often associated with heart disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, dementia, and other health conditions. With the help of a root canal, you not only keep your oral health healthy but your overall health.

What Happens if You Don’t Get a Root Canal When Needed?

As you read in the benefits section, a root canal can help preserve your teeth, give you that confident smile and improve your overall health. But, what happens if you disregard the root canal infection and leave it unattended?

All the benefits that you read will turn against you. Meaning, 

  • The pain that you experience from the root canal infection will persist and worsen. 
  • The infection could spread and infect other healthy teeth causing a health emergency. 
  • You won’t enjoy eating or drinking hot and cold foods. 
  • You could lose your natural teeth if you reach a point where extraction is your only option. 
  • Your teeth look discolored and untidy. 
  • And, leaving a root canal infection unattended might be an invitation to other health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, and more. 

Types of Endodontic Therapy 

As we discuss the signs, benefits, and what will happen if you leave root canal infection unattended. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into how you can treat the problem with different treatments. Endodontic therapy is broadly divided into 3 types.

Nonsurgical Root Canal Treatment

Nonsurgical root canal treatment is a type of treatment where inner nerve tissue is removed and the inner chamber is sealed. This type of treatment is common among patients whose teeth have experienced extensive decay that can’t be fixed with fillings.

During a non-surgical root canal procedure, drilling is done farther than drilling done during a normal filling. Drilling father helps access the root canal and makes it easy to clean. 

Apicoectomy

Apicoectomy treatment is also considered a microsurgical procedure. In case, a non-surgical root canal procedure is unsuccessful, an apicoectomy treatment is adopted. In an apicoectomy procedure, the very tip of a tooth’s root is removed and filled with the material to seal the canal. 

Pulpotomy and Pulpectomy

Pulpotomy and Pulpectomy are types of root canal procedures recommended only for children. Though both pulpotomy and pulpectomy are used to save a child’s natural tooth, they have one difference. 

Pulpectomy procedure is used when a child has extensive teeth infection or decay. In this procedure, all the infected pulp is removed and replaced with a filler material. 

Whereas, pulpotomy procedures don’t use filler material. Once the affected pulp of the tooth’s chamber is removed, the healthy pulp is left to grow in your child’s tooth roots. 

How are Root Canals Performed? 

Like any other dental procedure, root canal treatment also follows a procedure. Read each step below to understand how a root canal is performed.

  • Step 1 – Performing Dental X-Rays: The first step is to find the affected areas. The dentist will take X-rays of your teeth and spot the affected area. 
  • Step 2 – Anesthesia: Once the affected area is spotted, a patient will be given local anesthesia. Thorough mouth cleaning will also be done at this stage. 
  • Step 3 – Removing the pulp: As the anesthesia starts to kick in, the dentist will make a small hole on the surface of the tooth. With the help of dental equipment, the dead pulp tissue is removed with very small files. 
  • Step 4 – Treating The Opening: Once the bacteria and dead pulp are removed, the dentist will medicate the internal tooth to kill any remaining bacteria to prevent future reinfection. 
  • Step 5 – Sealing the Tooth/ Temporary Filling: Once the pulp is removed and bacteria are disinfected, it’s time for filling and seal the opening. Depending on the infections and the location of a tooth, patients are either given temporary filling or permanent filling. Note that temporary should be replaced with permanent at the given date your dentist assigns you. Once the filling is complete, a crown is placed to protect the teeth and root. 
  • Step 6 – Restoring the Tooth: Restoring teeth is for those patients who have a temporary filling. At this stage, temporary fillings are removed and replaced with permanent fillings. In many cases, an artificial crown will replace the tip of your tooth.

Tips For Preventing Root Canal Infections 

Once you have your root canal infection treated, it’s important to take care of it to prevent any infection in the future. Here are tips for preventing root canal infections and taking care of your treated root canal. 

  • Brush your teeth twice a day. 

  • Use a gentle antiseptic mouthwash. 
  • Restore your teeth permanently as soon as possible. 
  • Get dental cleaning at least twice a year. 
  • See your dentist right away if you notice any early signs of infection.

FAQs About Root Canals

The most common procedures and typical amounts charged by dentists are Root Canal – Front Tooth (approximately $620 – $1,100 Out-of-Network) Root Canal – Premolar (approximately $720- $$1,300 Out-of-Network) Root Canal – Molar (approximately $890 – $1,500 Out-of-Network).

With proper care, a root canal filling can last a lifetime. Make it a point to brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste, clean between your teeth once a day, and see your dentist regularly to make sure your teeth are strong and healthy.

For the first few days after a root canal, some patients experience sensitivity, swelling, or inflammation, while others experience an uneven bite or a reaction to the medication provided by the endodontist. Regardless of symptoms, a follow-up appointment is almost always needed.

Needing a crown after a root canal depends highly on the location of the tooth in the mouth—teeth towards the back of the mouth like molars and premolars are needed more for chewing, and generally require crowns, where incisors or canines which aren’t needed for chewing don’t always require crowns.

There is no evidence that a root canal can cause cancer. In fact, a root canal is the only way to remove an infected tooth that could spread and cause serious disease or illness. All claims that root canals cause cancer or other illnesses are complete myths.

After a root canal, make sure to follow all of your endodontist’s instructions, which most often include avoiding hard or especially chewy foods, brushing twice a day, and being very cautious around the area where the root canal procedure was completed.

A Root Canal Can Save Your Smile

Typically, our body is highly efficient in combating infections. However, when the body can’t deploy antibodies to the tooth, the root canal can get infected. Chances are that the nerves inside the tooth will die. If the dead nerve is not treated in time, it will accommodate the bacteria that cause infection. In some situations, the dentist may have to remove the dead tooth or conduct a root canal treatment to eliminate the dead pulp and treat the infection.

Root canal infections are rare but possible. If you experience any signs that are mentioned in the signs section of this post, you may be suffering from an urgent dental issue that needs immediate treatment to prevent further complications or tooth loss.

A small dental issue could end up leading to other health problems and it is not worth the risk. Enduring a root canal for an hour is going to be much better than ending up in the emergency room. Contact your dental office to book an appointment with the dentist.