Service Spotlight: What Are Root Canals?

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People in need of root canals

What’s a root canal, and why do you need one?

We hear these questions a lot at our Bedford dental practice, and even though we’d prefer to prevent problems (rather than treat them), it’s great to know that modern root canal procedures are safe and effective treatments we can use whenever they’re needed.

Dentists perform root canals, also called “endodontic therapy,” to eliminate infection in a tooth. Infections themselves can be quite threatening to your health, in addition to being pretty painful.

Before modern dentistry, patients with tooth infections were in a pretty bad position. Fortunately, patients in present-day Bedford have nothing to fear, as our advanced treatment methods are very effective and relatively painless!

Why Do People Need Root Canals?

To understand root canals, first we need to understand the structures of a tooth. Teeth aren’t actually bone, as many think, but are mostly a bone-like substance called dentin. A hard, protective enamel coats your teeth on the outside, while the pulp feeds the tooth from the inside.

It’s easy to forget about the stuff inside your tooth, but the nerves that reside there will give you an unpleasant reminder when there is a problem (a toothache). They enable you to feel sensations, such as temperature, through their connections to your nervous system.

The pulp consists of connective tissues, nerves, and blood vessels. These structures enter the tooth through a small channel in the root, known as the “root canal.”

Is it all starting to come together?

When tooth decay is present, the protective enamel and dentin can erode, forming a cavity. If it’s just a small amount of decay, we clean up the problem and fill the cavity. However, if the cavity is left untreated, it can become large enough that the bacteria in your mouth can find their way into the pulp of your tooth, causing an infection and possible abscess. Infection can then spread beyond your mouth, to your brain or heart, or cause other complications such as abscesses, sepsis, or pneumonia.

Root canal therapy is the process by which we remove the infected pulp and nerve and replace them with a filling.

What to Expect When You Get a Root Canal

  1. Initial appointment – Patients in the latter stages of tooth decay often find their own way in, having ignored their tooth decay until it becomes advanced enough to cause pain. Other times, we discover the affected tooth during a regular examination or cleaning, if it hasn’t presented with a toothache just yet.Either way, the first appointment usually involves an x-ray to confirm the assessment and identify the exact placement of the infected area.
  1. Treatment: preparing the tooth – If you struggle with anxiety or have concerns about discomfort, let us know. We can help make you as comfortable as possible during your treatment, with options such as conscious sedation and nitrous oxide, as needed.In fact, the first thing we’ll do to begin treatment is to numb the affected area. A rubber dam is placed around your tooth as part of the effort to keep the working area dry. A small opening is then made in the crown of the damaged tooth to create clear access into the root.
  1. Removing the infected material – Inside the pulp of an infected tooth are damaged nerves or blood vessels. We clean up the deteriorated area at this point, removing the materials at the “root” of the problem. We then prepare the interior surfaces for filling.
  1. Filling the root canal – After the root canal has been cleared of infected material, it needs to be filled with a special, rubbery material that plays nicely with the organic materials of your mouth. This part is pretty straightforward, and the root canal part is done, but we still need to repair the tooth itself.
  1. Restoring the tooth – If the majority of the enamel and dentin of the tooth is still healthy, we might be able to just provide a filling to restore the tooth to full function. In other cases, you need to rebuild the tooth and place a dental crown to restore your tooth.
  1. Maintaining the tooth – After a successful root canal, it’s imperative to take proper care of your restored tooth. Teeth with root canals can last for years, however, they can also decay, fracture, or become infected by gum disease (just like any other tooth) if not properly cared for.Maintaining daily cleaning (brushing AND flossing) and regular exams will help keep them healthy for years to come!In the event a root canal is re-infected, Dr. White and her team will refer patients to a local endodontist, as needed.

What to Expect After a Root Canal

While the procedure itself is practically painless, a little soreness and inflammation after a root canal is common. Over-the-counter medications can provide relief for the discomfort, which usually only lasts for one or two days. You’ll be able to return to a normal brushing and flossing routine almost immediately.

If you suspect you may have tooth decay that’s leading to a root canal, or if you find yourself in emergency need of dental attention, give our Bedford dental practice a call as soon as possible. A member of our team will help answer any questions you may have, and will work to get you seen by a doctor as soon as possible.

Contact us if you’re in pain!

~Dr. Marea White