Your dentist just told you that you needed a root canal. It sounds frightening and painful. You may have asked him why, or how the procedure will be performed, but let’s face it: at this point, you’re so worried you probably didn’t even pay attention to half of what he was saying.
That reaction is normal. The words “root” and “canal” aren’t necessarily unpleasant when you use them separately, but together they can make your stomach drop 30 stories. Let us take away at least part of that fear for you. We’ll tell you exactly what a root canal is, how it’s treated, and how you can prevent it from happening again.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a dental procedure used to clean out an infection in the pulp of your tooth. The pulp is the part of the tooth that is underneath the crown or the white part of your tooth. The part that you see in your mouth is actually bone that has pushed to the surface. That’s why it’s so hard and sharp.
Have you ever bitten yourself by accident? It hurts because your teeth are bones. Just like the rest of the bones in your body, your teeth protect nerves and flesh. These nerves and flesh are found in your gums. That is what allows you to feel pain in your mouth.
What Causes a Root Canal?
There are several causes of a root canal. You may need it because you have an infection, as mentioned earlier. This can be caused by a damaged or broken tooth. Although your teeth are bones, they aren’t invincible. It is possible to chip, crack or damage them. Sometimes we’ll do it without even knowing about it.
When this happens, the nerves and pulp of your teeth are exposed. This means that bacteria, food particles, and anything else can get into your teeth. This is also the cause of a cavity. The difference is a root canal is actually the treatment for a very deep cavity or tooth infection.
How Will My Dentist Perform a Root Canal?
Your dentist will go in and clean out the infection in your tooth. He’ll start by taking an x-ray of the tooth he’s performing the procedure on. Then he will numb the area with some anesthetic. He’ll poke you and ask if you feel anything. If you do, speak up! You do not want to feel any part of this procedure. He will be cleaning out nerves, and you do not want to feel that kind of pain.
Once your mouth is numb your dentist will set up a dental dam. This is just a little white square that he puts in your mouth that will stop saliva from flowing into the tooth. It needs to be completely dry in order for him to perform the procedure. Once he sets it up, he will remove any excess saliva from around your tooth. This is why he’ll place a little vacuum in your mouth every once in a while. He will be sucking out blood and saliva so that he’ll be able to keep the area as clean as possible.
Your dentist will remove the infected pulp completely. This includes the nerves and anything else in the pulp. Once he finishes, he’ll impact it with a small amount of cement. This will completely fill up the hole that is left in your tooth. A temporary seal is put on top of the cement to fill the hole in your tooth.
Once the infection is gone, your tooth will start to heal. You will have to go back to have the seal removed and have a crown placed on your tooth. Your dentist will also check to see if your tooth is healing properly. This can take up to three visits to complete, depending on how severe your case is.
How Do I Treat/Prevent a Root Canal?
Follow your dentist’s directions to the letter. Don’t deviate from them, even if your tooth starts to feel better. You can wind up damaging your tooth even further, which can lead to more complications.
Otherwise, just go back to basics. Brush, floss and rinse regularly, after every meal and before bed at night. You should also wear a mouthguard if the situation calls for it. Most people only wear mouth guards for hard contact sports, like hockey or football. But if you’re doing something that may damage your mouth, you’ll need a mouth guard. That will prevent fractures from happening in the future.
Now that you know the basics of a root canal, you can probably let go of some of that anxiety you’re holding onto. Follow directions, stay calm, and hopefully, this is the last root canal you’ll ever need.