The root canal procedure is a modern technique to treat severe toothache and tooth infections while still saving the problem tooth. If this is your first time hearing about the root canal or root canal treatments, we have a great summary article to start you off here.
In previous posts we’ve covered what the root canal is, how to tell if your dental pain is root canal pain, the basics of treatment and a rough idea of what to expect when it comes time to pull out the credit card. There really isn’t anything too complex about this common dental procedure. If you’ve been experiencing root canal pain we recommend you get in touch with us at Kew Dentistry.
To help you understand what your potential root canal treatment will involve, in this post we’ll look at exactly what the various stages of root canal treatment involves.
Do I need root canal therapy?
Before we dive into the specifics of a root canal procedure, let’s recap what we already know about root canal pain and the other symptoms of root canal problems.
What is the root canal?
Your teeth aren’t just made of hard, white stuff. Just like any bone in the body, they still need a supply of blood and connection to your nervous system. In the centre of each of the roots of a tooth is a hollow space filled with softer tissue – this is the root canal. Blood vessels and nerves run up from the gums through the root canals, supplying each tooth with blood and giving your brain feedback on sensations like pain, heat and cold. Like any tissue in your body, the root canal can become infected, which is where root canal pain becomes a problem.
How do I know if I’m experiencing root canal pain?
There are a few ways to tell the difference between root canal pain and the pain caused by a variety of other dental problems. A dentist is the best person to diagnose the cause of your pain, but in general, root canal pain is usually quite severe and persistent. Teeth with root canal problems may change colour and are generally very sensitive to heat. Sensitivity to touch may also indicate a root canal problem. We covered the symptoms of root canal pain in more detail in a previous article.
Why should I consider root canal treatment?
Unfortunately, once an infection has taken hold in an enclosed structure like the root canal, it is extremely unlikely that the problem will fix itself. In fact, it will only get worse. Some patients who avoid treatment may think the infection has cleared once they stop feeling pain. However, this is most likely just a sign that the nerves in the tooth have died completely. Root canal therapy is a safe, modern and relatively painless procedure that can treat the problem early. Root canal treatment will help you avoid more drastic measures like extraction.
Step 1: Diagnosis
Deciding what is causing your dental pain and whether root canal therapy is the best treatment option for you is a vital part of the whole procedure.
Your first appointment
If you’re experiencing severe dental pain, it’s always best to see a dentist as soon as possible. You’ll probably be asked a few questions about your symptoms and the rough location of the source of your pain. Your dentist will take a very close look at the area of discomfort and test a number of teeth to pinpoint which tooth is causing you the problem. There are specific tests that check the health of the nerves in a tooth and can quickly narrow down the issue to the root canal. It’s important to note that none of these tests should cause you any significant discomfort and make the pain you’re experiencing any worse.
X-rays are a vital step in diagnosing root canal problems and determining treatment. An image like an x-ray will help your dentist confirm the exact source of your pain. If the issue is an infection in the root canal, images will help determine the extent of the infection and make sure it hasn’t spread to the bone of the jaw and other tissue surrounding the problem tooth. The good news is if you’ve come in to see us early, this is very unlikely, and a modern root canal procedure might be the best option to quickly and easily treat your pain.
Step 2: The Root Canal Procedure
Suppose the issue that’s been worrying you is a root canal infection and your dentist has recommended root canal therapy. In that case, the good news is you will most likely be able to undergo the procedure and get relief from the pain straight away.
How long does a root canal take?
We’re about to take you through the steps of a root canal procedure one by one. Before we do, the first thing to know is that the procedure isn’t overly extensive. Several things might affect the time it takes to treat you, including the number of roots that need treating. The good news is the entire treatment should only take 30 minutes to an hour.
You’ll be glad to know that your dentist will be generously applying local anaesthetic to the area around your problem tooth before beginning the root canal procedure. This can be mildly uncomfortable to start, but it means that you won’t feel any pain at all within minutes. A rubber dam is put in place to isolate the tooth and keep it dry while you’re waiting for the anaesthetic to kick in.
Accessing the root canal
To get to the soft tissue of the root canal, your dentist will drill a very small opening through the hard, top part of your tooth called the crown. Remember, you won’t feel a thing, and by this point, you won’t have undergone anything any more extensive than a normal dental filling.
Treating the root canal infection
The best way to treat the infection that’s causing your toothache is to remove the contents of the root entirely. This is done relatively gently with small, specialised tools. Antiseptic is then applied to the hollow root to help kill any remaining infection.
Your dentist will then reshape the hard tooth around the root canal so that it’s ready to be filled easily. A rubber-like filling is used to fill the canal and is compressed and heated for a snug fit to make sure the tooth is as comfortable as possible after your procedure. A hard cement is used to temporarily seal the canal and fill the access hole.
Why is my root canal filling temporary
In almost all cases, this first treatment is temporary, and you will see your dentist again in a few days for a permanent filling. This is so we can make sure the infection has been completely removed and won’t come back to cause you any more problems before permanently sealing your tooth. This is an idea used in many medical specialties when dealing with infection, including trauma surgery.
Step 3: Permanent Filling
A few days after your first treatment, you’ll revisit your dentist, and in almost all cases, the infection will have been treated completely. It’s then time to replace the temporary filling, permanently seal your now healthy tooth, and call your root canal therapy a complete success!
In between visits
After your initial treatment, you’ll be sent home to rest with a prescription for antibiotics to help kill off any remaining infection. After-care is very important during these few days, and your dentist will give you specific instructions on how to look after your temporary filling. You may experience mild discomfort after your procedure and will have to watch what you’re eating for a few days. We’ve written a rough guide on what to expect during your recovery from root canal treatment.
Final treatment and sealing
After checking that the infection has been treated it will be time to permanently seal your tooth. Your dentist will remove the temporary filling and replace it with a permanent dental cement. In most cases the surface of the tooth will be sealed with a dental crown. This provides one final layer of strength and protection against reinfection. After you tooth has been permanently sealed you should experience very little to no discomfort and most importantly, will be able to use the tooth to chew your favourite foods again.
Considering root canal therapy?
We hope that this series of posts has helped you feel more confident about the idea of treating your toothache. The take home message is that modern root canal treatment is extremely effective and not more difficult to experience than a standard dental filling. Considering root canal therapy early can save you the trouble of more drastic options like tooth extraction down the track. It also doesn’t cost as much as you might think. Get in touch with us at Kew Dentistry to discuss treating your tooth pain with root canal treatment.