A root canal is a minimally invasive dental surgery to treat a tooth infection. No one looks forward to having this dental procedure. However, the relief it provides from a painful tooth abscess makes most patients very glad they had this treatment.
What is a Root Canal?
Every tooth has a one or more roots that keep the tooth in place in the jawbone. Nerves and blood vessels run through several tiny channels or “canals” in the root into the pulp at the center of the tooth. When a cavity or fracture allows bacteria to penetrate through the hard outer layers of the tooth into the pulp, the pulp may become infected. This is called a tooth infection or a tooth abscess. The bacteria spreads down into the root canals and can enter the surrounding gum tissue as well. This inflammation of the nerve and surrounding tissue is usually very painful. A root canal procedure is designed to:
- Minimize pain
- Reduce swelling
- Remove infected and dead tooth tissue
- Get rid of bacteria and prevent it from spreading
- Keep healthy tooth structure intact
- Restore the function and appearance of the affected tooth
What are the Symptoms of Tooth Infection?
You may first notice this problem when you find a cavity or start having pain in your tooth. You may notice prolonged sensitivity to cold temperatures, or may experience discomfort that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. The pain may extend into your gums and jaw. The area may be inflamed and swollen. As infections progresses, the abscess may spread into the gums and the area may drain foul smelling pus. Advanced infection can cause fever, nausea and vomiting. Swelling can spread into the neck and throat, making breathing and swallowing difficult. These are signs of a potentially life-threatening tooth abscess that requires emergency treatment.
Root canals are most effective and have the quickest recovery time if you catch them early. If the infection has gone too far, it may not be possible to save the tooth. That’s why it is important to seek help as soon as the first symptoms appear. Don’t be fooled if your tooth stops hurting on its own. This may just mean the nerve has been destroyed – it doesn’t mean the infection is gone!
Root Canal Procedure Overview
Root Canals usually take about an hour to perform. Over 90% of the time, root canal treatments are benign, gentle experiences where patients feel little or no discomfort whatsoever. This procedure is performed using a local anesthetic. An x-ray of the infected tooth shows where the root canals are located. A small hole is opened into the tooth so Dr. Norton can access the canals where the nerve tissue is located. Small round files are used to gently clean and sterilize the root canals. The inside of the tooth is washed out and may be treated with a topical antibiotic to ensure all bacteria are eliminated. The root canals leading down into the base of the tooth are sealed off with a type of dental putty to stabilize the tooth and help prevent future infection. It is very important to remember that a root canal treatment is never complete until after a final crown or filling is placed in the tooth. Dr. Norton will discuss which option will be the best for your individual situation.
More Information about Root Canal Treatment
Recovery after this procedure is usually pretty fast. There may be some minor swelling, bruising, or discomfort for the first two or three days. This is typically most noticeable right around the treated tooth; but your whole mouth might feel sore from having it open for an extended time with a rubber dam during the procedure. Rinsing several times a day with warm salt water, sleeping with your head elevated and using over the counter pain relief medication often help with these symptoms.
The tooth may feel sensitive to pressure. However, the tooth nerve is removed during the root canal procedure which helps limit pain. Within two weeks, the area should feel normal again. By one month, the tooth should be fully restored with a permanent crown. You will need to begin gently brushing and flossing as soon as possible to keep the area clean and reduce the risk of further decay or infection.