What is a Root Canal?

root-canal-image1Whenever you hear the phrase “root canal” amid a conversation about dentists, you cringe a little. It does sound painful, especially since it targets the core of your rather sensitive teeth. But a root canal is actually a canal full of pulp and nerve that runs down the length of each tooth. How many root canals a tooth may have depends on the type of tooth, but it still varies between teeth. Molars may have two to four, premolars and cuspids may have one or two and incisors usually have one.

What you probably think of the most when “root” and “canal” are squished together is the procedure that involves some serious dental drilling. When those precious root canals become infected or start to decay, something must be done to save the tooth and maintain great oral health. This is where the root canal procedure comes in and goes something like this:

  •  An x-ray is done to determine the state of the tooth and where the infection is.
  • Once the infected area is determined, it will be numbed and a rubber sheet—better known as a rubber dam—will be wrapped around the tooth to keep the tooth dry during the procedure.
  • A hole is then drilled down into the tooth to get access to the pulp chamber.
  • They will then remove the infected pulp and nerve using various sizes of files to ensure that all the infected material is scraped from the canal.
  • After a thorough cleaning, the hole will then be sealed to prevent any bacteria or debris from getting inside. The sealing usually happens on the same day but, in some cases, the dental professional may think it’s necessary to put medication in the tooth to clear up all the bacteria. In those situations, a temporary sealing will be in place until a permanent sealing about a week later or so. When permanently sealing, the canal will be stuffed with sealer paste and a rubber compound called gutta percha and then sealed in by a permanent filling.
  • Sometimes, the tooth will require some other restorative technique besides a sealing, such as a crown
  • Of course, the latter of all this depends on the state of tooth and how much it may have decayed.A diagram of a root canal procedure

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A diagram of a root canal procedure

It may sound painful, despite the promise of numbing. Honestly, the numbing is just a precaution and to help you feel better. If a root canal procedure is necessary, then the nerve in the canal is most likely dead, making it very difficult to feel anything at all. So, have no fear because the procedure is painless. Afterwards, the area may be understandably tender and sensitive, but nothing that can’t be solved with a simple painkiller.

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s okay to remove the nerve and pulp in your tooth. It has to be there for a reason, right? Once the tooth has popped through your gums and made a permanent home, the nerves in your teeth are unnecessary. So, losing that nerve won’t affect your daily life in any way.

Smile_designingBut if you have an infection in your root canal, you may not have symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you’ll probably experience a little pain when you chew or when you consume hot or cold foods.  Sometimes the infected tooth will have some discoloration or the gums surrounding the tooth will become tender and swollen. 

 Such an infection can be caused by a few things, like serious decay, a crack or a chip in the tooth or trauma to the face. It can also be caused by having repeated dental procedures on the same tooth or a large filling. If the infection gets serious enough, a tooth abscess may form, which is a pocket of pus at the tip of the tooth and is very painful.

Hopefully, you have healthy, strong teeth. But if you suspect any sort of issue with your teeth, you should consult your dentist immediately to make sure. The infection will be demolished effectively and you can go back chewing your steak with a smile.