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.
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?
The procedure is mostly painless, especially after the infected nerve is taken out.
The amount of pain you will feel after the procedure will depend on how diseased the nerve was. You might experience mild discomfort, and your tooth might be tender, especially when you eat. Your dentist will likely advise you to avoid chewing with the tooth until the infection is entirely gone and you have a permanent crown.
What are the risk factors?
A tooth infection that results in a root canal can be caused by a cracked tooth, cavities or an injury. This means, for the most part, that root canals are preventable — if you practice good dental hygiene, such as regularly brushing of your teeth and flossing.
The risk factors of a root canal procedure include losing the infected tooth, or experiencing nerve damage or further infection. You also run the risk of the infected tooth fracturing. It's important to discuss benefits and risks of any surgery with your dentist or oral surgeon.
What's the recovery time?
For the most part, root canal patients can return to work the next day. You might be prescribed some type of painkiller for the first few days after the root canal. The infected tooth might be sensitive after the surgery, so you might have to be careful when eating and drinking.
What's the follow-up?
After a root canal, many patients must see a dentist to have a crown placed on the tooth that was infected. During a root canal, your tooth's nerve tissue is removed, which can cause the tooth to become brittle.
Usually, dentists are performing root canals on teeth with large fillings so you're going to need a crown to protect the brittle tooth. Crowns are usually made of gold, porcelain or porcelain mixed with metal and are made to fit over your tooth's natural crown.
Source: Dr. Craig Herwig, dental director at Variety Care; The Mayo Clinic; U.S. National Library of Medicine.