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What's It Like: To have a root canal

A root canal is a dental procedure used to treat a decayed, infected tooth.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: November 11, 2012

Why get a root canal treated?

One of the main reasons you would get a root canal is if you're having chronic pain caused by decay and infection in a tooth. Your dentist can perform the root canal and try to save your tooth, rather than having to remove it.

Most of the time, people who need root canals have decay that has progressed into the nerve tissue of the tooth, and a simple filling can no longer solve the problem. To relieve the pain, a medical professional will remove the diseased tissue. Some dentists might refer you to an endodontist, who specializes in treating diseases within the tooth's tissue and nerves.

What happens?

A root canal can take multiple visits to complete. Your dentist will probably take X-rays to see how damaged your tooth is. Also before the procedure, your dentist might place you on antibiotics to take care of the infection, especially if you have a swollen jaw.

A root canal is usually done with a local anesthetic, usually inserted by placing a needle into your gum. Sometimes a patient might need to be sedated if they're overly nervous. Generally, you will be awake during the procedure.

To start the procedure, your dentist will place a rubber dam over your tooth. This dam isolates the tooth that's causing you pain and keeps all the medications out of your mouth and focused on the tooth.

Next, a medical professional will drill into your tooth and remove the diseased tissue. There are different approaches as to how the tissue can be removed. They might use files or rotary drills that to clean out the diseased tissue. Your dentist might also use medication to help irrigate and flush out the bacteria and diseased tissue.

Generally, a dentist will wait until all infection is gone before permanently filling your tooth. This might take several days, depending on the infection. Your dentist or endodontist might place a temporary filling over the tooth.

Does it hurt?

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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