Root Canal Therapy Explained

Visiting the dentist for any treatment or procedure may seem frightening to some. Hearing the phrase “root canal” is enough to strike fear into some patient’s hearts. Whether it is the thought of a drill inside a tooth or stories heard from those that…

Visiting the dentist for any treatment or procedure may seem frightening to some. Hearing the phrase “root canal” is enough to strike fear into some patient’s hearts. Whether it is the thought of a drill inside a tooth or stories heard from those that have had it done, many don’t completely understand what root canal therapy entails. This article will explore some interesting facts and what you should know about root canals.

Root Canal Therapy

Endodontic therapy, or root canal therapy – what is it?

Think of an individual tooth, it is smooth on the sides and has crevices on top. The center of the tooth is a cavity or hollow space called the root canal. Below the root canal area lies the pulp where nerve tissues, blood vessels and cellular entities reside. When a tooth’s pulp is infected or inflamed, it may be necessary to remove these components, which is what is known as root canal therapy.

Some patients that require root canal treatment may not experience pain, and some have intense pain. When a person experiences severe pain in their tooth or teeth, they will likely visit the dentist to remedy the situation. An endodontist will need to examine the problem area to determine if the pulp is infected.

Typically a cavity that has gone on far too long without treatment causes an infection inside the tooth, which requires root canal treatment to fix the problem. Because the nerves only serve a sensory function of determining hot or cold, having them removed through root canal treatment won’t affect the overall health of your tooth. But having root canal therapy will essentially save a tooth from further decay.

Root Canal Therapy

Why should you have root canal treatment?

For those that like to put off going to the dentist, if a root canal is needed they shouldn’t delay. There are severe consequences to not having the procedure done. If the pulp of a tooth is infected and bacteria are allowed to fester, the tooth is at risk. But more troublesome are the potential for abscesses and bone loss.

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A person that suspects their tooth is infected should make an appointment with an endodontist quickly. Abscesses will cause your face and neck to swell, along with being very painful. These occur when the infection spreads past the root canal. Bone loss is a possibility if left untreated and can appear at the tip of the root, which can jeopardize the integrity of the tooth.

Is having root canal treatment painful?

Root canal therapy has varying degrees of pain during and after treatment and depends on the person. Every person’s pain tolerance is different, but it is safe to say, root canal treatments can be somewhat painful afterward. But the good news, during the procedure itself you will feel a little discomfort.

“Most patients that undergo root canal therapy are given a local anesthetic to numb the area. Sedation, such as Nitrous Oxide, might be used to eliminate any pain or anxiety felt throughout the procedure.” Roseville Dentist Tony Chen of Arbor View Dental Group.

Are there options for sedation during root canal therapy?

As explained above, most patients are given an injection at the area in which the root canal therapy is to be performed. But for those patients that suffer from dental phobias, or are worried about feeling any portion of the process, sedation can be given.

Most endodontists will use either nitrous oxide analgesia or conscious IV sedation. In most cases, the use of anesthesia for putting the patient completely to sleep isn’t recommended. The risks of unwanted or bad side effects versus the benefit usually don’t dictate its use.

What happens during the treatment?

Root canal therapy is pretty straightforward. The tooth that requires treatment will need to have the pulp extracted. To reach the pulp, your endodontist will need to create a canal to get there. This is where most people get nervous. A drill will be used for this portion, but it doesn’t last very long, and you will be under a local anesthetic and should only feel slight pressure.

Once the pulp is reached, it will be removed with a special filer tool. The cavity inside the tooth is cleaned out thoroughly to prevent any infection. Your endodontist will then fill the cavity completely to ensure bacteria and debris cannot enter. In some cases, he or she may opt to use a crown on the tooth depending on the condition and if it is necessary.

Stephen Nozaki, DDS, MPH, DIDIA

Dr. Stephen Nozaki is the owner and lead dentist at Image Dental in Stockton. He is a dedicated professional born and raised in California's Central Valley. With a commitment to his community, he brings advanced dental techniques learned from extensive education and continuous training from around the world. A third-generation Japanese American, Dr. Nozaki has a rich background that includes international living and a deep passion for both dentistry and outdoor activities. His focus in dentistry aligns with his passion for cosmetics and dental implants.