Root Canal Therapy
In the dental world, there isn’t a more misunderstood procedure than the root canal. People associate the procedure with medieval torture when it should be celebrated for what it is — the ultimate tooth saver. A root canal can save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted, and the procedure isn’t any more painful than filling a cavity.
At Golden Dental Solutions, we offer root canals for certain cases, or we have the ability to refer to our team of specialists.
What is a root canal?
To understand what a root canal is, it helps to know the anatomy of your teeth. Your teeth have three layers: the outer hard enamel, the dentin (also hard), and the pulp. The pulp is the inner tooth; there you’ll find the blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The pulp runs from the top of the tooth (the crown) all the way down to the tip of the roots. In the roots, the chambers that hold the pulp are the “root canals.”
When you get a cavity, decay usually gets into the enamel or maybe the dentin. But if allowed to continue, it will eventually penetrate into the pulp. Now everything in the pulp has to be removed and the space thoroughly disinfected. This procedure is called a root canal.
When does a tooth need a root canal?
When infection enters the pulp that tooth will require a root canal; the other option will be eventual extraction, as the infection will not resolve. In most cases, this kind of deep decay is simply due to decay that has bee left untreated. But a deep crack in a tooth can also allow decay to enter the pulp. Interestingly enough, previous trauma, such as having braces on a tooth, can trigger a process where decay forms in the pulp. A root canal is the only way to save the natural tooth by removing all of the infected material, cleaning the tooth, and placing a crown over the tooth.
How would I know if I need a root canal?
When infection enters the interior of the tooth, you’ll usually know, as the pain can be intense. These are the typical symptoms that you have an infection in the pulp:
- Intense pain
- Tenderness to the touch
- Prolonged sensitivity to hot and cold
- Tenderness when chewing
- Discoloration of the tooth
- Swelling or tenderness of the gum tissue surrounding the tooth
- Persistent pimples on the gums
In some cases, usually involving tooth trauma, the patient won’t have these symptoms, or at least they won’t have them yet. Dr. Kenson or Dr. Gill will spot the infection on your x-rays when you come in for your twice-yearly exams and cleanings. You don’t feel it yet, as the infection hasn’t reached the nerves.
How is a root canal performed?
Root canals typically require two appointments: one to clear out the infection, and one to place a crown. Not all root canals are performed at our office, so it is important to schedule a consultation and speak to our doctors about your specific situation.
To remove the infection, we first numb the area so you don’t feel anything. A dental dam is used to keep the area dry. To access the pulp, our doctors drill a small hole in the crown of the tooth. Small tools are then inserted to remove everything inside the tooth, the infected connective tissue, blood vessels, and damaged nerve tissue. Once the tooth is completely empty, it is thoroughly disinfected with sodium hypochlorite.
Now the empty tooth needs to be filled with a rubber-based material called gutta-percha. This adds some strength to the tooth. The hole on top is filled with a composite resin filling. If the tooth is a smaller tooth, such as an eye tooth, this may conclude the procedure. But in most cases, the tooth will need to have a crown placed on it to give it the strength necessary for daily use. This is always the case with molars having root canals. For the crown, we take impressions and photos of your tooth to send to the dental lab for fabrication of the crown. While your crown is being made, we place a temporary crown on the tooth. When your custom porcelain crown is finished you come back for your second appointment and we place the crown permanently.
How long do root canals take to perform?
A root canal on a molar usually takes about 90 minutes. Smaller teeth usually only need an hour or so. To prepare the tooth and place the crown in the second appointment usually requires about an hour.
Is there recovery after a root canal?
You will have some soreness, usually in your jawbone muscles, mainly from having your jaw open for up to 90 minutes. As mentioned, your gums could have some residual soreness as they recover from the irritation of the now-gone infection. But this is general soreness and can be easily handled with over-the-counter pain medication. You can use your repaired tooth immediately.
How long will I be able to keep my tooth after having a root canal?
Because a root canal removes everything in the interior of the tooth, people sometimes assume the tooth will break down quickly. They assume removing blood vessels and the like basically kills the tooth, but this isn’t the case. The material in the pulp of your tooth is only important to the health of the tooth when it is developing when you’re a kid. Once the tooth is mature it can survive without the pulp because the surrounding tissues nourish the tooth. If you take good care of your teeth, a tooth that has had a root canal and a crown can last the rest of your life.
Should I opt for extraction or a root canal?
We never like to remove a natural tooth if it can be saved. Root canals basically save a natural tooth, and the crown returns strength and protection to the tooth. Having a root canal and a crown is less expensive than extracting the tooth and then replacing it with a dental implant. However, there are times when the tooth has been left with growing decay for so long that even a root canal cannot save it. This kind of infection usually involves associated problems, such as abscesses in the gums. Extracting the tooth will now be necessary. In these instances, we recommend replacing the missing tooth with a dental implant in most cases.
Are root canals painful?
If you simply mention the phrase root canal to many people, you are likely to see them blanch slightly. People associate root canals with serious pain. But this is completely inaccurate. Modern root canals aren’t any more painful than having a filling placed in a tooth. During the procedure, you feel nothing. Afterwards, you will have some soreness, mainly from your mouth being open during the procedure, but the pain is no longer acute. Your surrounding gums may have some residual soreness if the infection was impacting them, as they return to normal now that the infection is gone.
It helps to consider how a tooth senses pain in the first place, through the nerve fibers inside the pulp. A root canal removes all of these nerve fibers, so the tooth no longer has any ability to sense anything, be it hot, cold, or pain.
People seem to associate the pain that creates the need for the root canal with the procedure itself. When a tooth is infected, the pain can be extreme, but the root canal alleviates that pain.
Are there risks involved with root canals?
These are very successful procedures. The methods for disinfecting the interior of the tooth are better than ever, and anesthesia is easier to take and disperses more quickly afterwards. The only real risk with a root canal is if the infection is not totally cleared. If that happens, a second procedure would be necessary, but this is very rare.
Schedule A Consultation
If you are interested in root canal therapy and would like to see if you are a good candidate, call (303) 277-9600 to schedule a consultation. Our practice serves patients from Denver, Golden and surrounding areas.