We’ve all seen the way movies and television plays up a root canal as the most painful thing to ever have done. In general, the media enjoys painting dentists as malicious. The truth is that most dentists are careful and caring and take care to cause as little discomfort as possible, whether we are doing a simple cleaning, an extraction, or even the dreaded root canal.
Firstly, root canals are also pretty commonly called dental nerve extractions and are only performed on a tooth that is painfully damaged or infected. The purpose of the procedure is to remove the nerve as well as the dental pulp, which is the soft inner filling of the tooth. We remove it because damage to the tooth causes the pulp to break down, which produced bacteria. As the bacteria multiply, it can begin to eat away at the nerve, the tooth, and in severe cases even the gums or jaw. This decay can create an abscess, which is a pocket of pus. Left unchecked, the abscess can grow to damage other teeth, the jaw, the gums and other areas of the face, neck or head. In some cases, the abscess can even eat its way out through the skin, leaving a weeping pus filled wound.
A root canal stops that process from continuing by removing the nerve and pulp as well as any pus or other debris that might promote infection. The nerves in your teeth only serve to sense hot and cold and so they are not necessary in order for your tooth to function properly.
Once it has been determined that a root canal is necessary, xrays are taken to help see the shapes of the roots of the infected or damaged teeth. Next, your dentist will use a local medication, typically delivered via a small injection, to numb the area. What many patients don’t realize is that this numbing medication may not be necessary. The procedure itself is painless if the nerve is dead. What most patients feel is discomfort caused by swelling of the surrounding tissue combined with very understandable anxiety.
Once the area is numbed, your dentist will work to keep the area dry and clean as well as protecting the surrounding teeth. This is typically done using a rubber dam placed around the tooth. Next, a small hole is drilled into the tooth to allow access to the infected interior, which is then cleaned out using small files and water or a sterile cleaning fluid. Once cleaned, the tooth can be sealed.
Depending on the level of infection, some dentists may choose to leave the access hole open for a few days to a week in order to allow any remaining pus in an abscess to drain. When the tooth is sealed, the root canal is considered complete. A tooth that has been fixed with a root canal can last for the rest of the patients life. About 96% of patients have a total success rate with the root canal procedure.