So, what’s the big deal about a root canal? There’s a stigma that comes with the words (dramatic pause): root canal! Are they painful, do they take forever, what’s the deal with that green rubber dam thing?

Before today’s technology and anesthetics, a root canal was not one of the most fun things in the world to experience. They took three appointments to complete and often you could still feel pain during the procedure. You had to go to a specialist’s office and sometimes it ended up being an emergency dentist. Let’s shed some light on this very simple procedure, one that the general public views as mystical and painful. It is also much easier to do today and with less discomfort for the patient than you may have heard from your parents or grandparents.

Causes and common symptoms

First, let’s ask why someone would need a root canal. Each tooth in your jaw is alive; each one has its own nerve carrying blood, vitamins and minerals. Teeth can do funny things sometimes. They can break, they can get deep cracks from grinding and clenching (many of us do it in our sleep or due to stress), and they can get cavities and fillings. You could either have just one of these problems or several at the same time.

Each time a tooth undergoes trauma (cracks, breaks, drilling) or bacterial invasion (that’s what a cavity is) the nerve of the tooth gets stressed. The more stress you put on the nerve, its ability to heal after trauma weakens. These stresses are cumulative throughout its life. There comes a day when the tooth cannot take any more trauma and decides to die: slowly or quickly. This is generally painful. It can come on very suddenly or it can build for weeks or months. This is when you need a root canal. If you wait too long you can even develop an abscess.

What if I might need a root canal?

There are several tests we use to find out if a root canal is necessary. Digital X-rays are standard protocol. From there, we will test the affected area with a bite stick and then tap on the teeth to see if they are still sound, and to what level they are decayed. The final test we generally perform is a cold test to see if the nerve is dead or dying. From these tests, and also from visually inspecting for cavities and cracks, we can determine if a root canal is indeed necessary.

What can you expect during the root canal procedure?

Our first step is to get you very numb to make the procedure comfortable. We will then place a rubber dam on your teeth. This is a green, stretchy latex barrier that keeps saliva out of the area of the tooth and to keep your tongue and cheeks out of the way. It also prevents you from tasting the solutions we use during the root canal. If you need any suction underneath the rubber dam just let us know.

Special titanium files are used to clean out the nerve, then a special filling called gutta percha is warmed up to seal the nerve canals, which are now completely germ-free. Sensitivity upon biting is the most common symptom after the procedure, which can take 1-4 weeks to subside.

After a root canal, your tooth generally will also need to have two other procedures done to it immediately after the root canal. The tooth will have a large hole in the middle of the biting surface: I will either place a buildup filling or a post, which makes the tooth whole again.

After the root canal, you will also need a crown. Teeth after root canals are weak and brittle since they no longer have their blood supply and are hollowed out. The crown after the root canal acts to reinforce the tooth. It acts like a helmet, protecting it from all the forces of everyday life and prevents future breaks.

Wow, that sounds complicated. Thanks Doc, I’m never calling you again!

I know it sounds very complicated, but these days a root canal can be done in one appointment in under an hour with very little discomfort. The team at Sleep Dentistry Defined really knows how to get those teeth numb! Some really infected teeth sometimes do need two visits to let the infections settle down. There can be times where a root canal takes longer than a day because they have extra nerves (most teeth have from 1-4 nerves), or because the nerves have walled themselves off or because they’re curvy. The bottom line is that after the root canal is done you will have healthier and stronger teeth for years to come, and with modern anesthesia you can be comfortable during the entire procedure.

We’re here to help! If you think you might need a root canal, give us a call and we can schedule an appointment.