The term ‘Root Canal’ is often paired with words that portray it as a scary procedure to go through. Even dental extractions seem to be less frightening at times. Through advancements in the latest dentistry techniques and new technology, however, the root canal (endodontic treatment) is a safe procedure.
For example, you probably wouldn’t think of a root canal as a gentle treatment, but Dr. Gagnon at Care Creek Dental assures his patients that a root canal is nothing to be afraid of. Most times it is the equivalent of receiving a filling or crown. In fact, a root canal is a necessary treatment that can save an ailing tooth.
As a seasoned dentist who performs most endodontics himself, Dr. Gagnon is no stranger to the root canal procedure. He has successfully completed over a 1,000 root canals for numerous patients, and has seen that most patient’s worst experience with a root canal is the ‘anticipation’.
Fear of the unknown is what drives potential root canal candidates to quiver from this term. The following is what patients can expect during a standard root canal treatment. Dr. Gagnon hopes that by making this information available, patients will begin to see root canals as a dental treatment that saves a tooth from extraction.
As far as the negative myths surrounding endodontics, Dr. Gagnon hopes that an important fact about root canals takes hold instead: Root canals don’t cause exorbitant amount of pain; they relieve it.
What is a Root Canal Exactly?
Calling the endodontic procedure, a “root canal” is a bit of a misnomer. A root canal is a component of a healthy tooth. There is the enamel, the ultra-strong shield that protects the tooth, the dentin or “meat” of the tooth, the pulp chamber, and then there are the one to five root canals that house tissue: the nerve, artery, and vein that make up the root canal system, also called the tooth pulp. This system consists of the living tissue that keeps the tooth vital on the inside. And while teeth can become devitalized on the inside, the cells on the outside of the tooth on the roots remain alive to nourish the tooth and keep it secured to the jawbone.
Dr. Gagnon will recommend an endodontic treatment if the pulp of your tooth has died, infected or because of a tooth fracture that has reached the pulp.
In either situation an abscess starts to form and your body tries to fight off the inflammation or infection. If left untreated you may start to have swelling or pain.
Dr. Gagnon educates patients that when the pain due to hot or cold temperatures begins to subside, that usually indicates that the tooth’s nerve is beginning to die. At this point the pain could then increase as an acute and incredibly painful infection to spread to the surrounding areas and jaw bone. Sometimes if the pain goes away then a chronic abscess forms and the bone around the tooth starts to dissolve away from the tooth without the person knowing of the slowly growing abscess. If left untreated the chance of a root canal being successful lessens and the only alternative may be an extraction.
Whatever the cause, an endodontic procedure will be necessary to save the tooth, stop the pain, and save the patient’s smile.
The Root Canal Procedure Explained
Dr. Gagnon begins an endodontic procedure by first checking the patient’s medical history and current medication protocol to ensure both health and safety. Nervous patients may be given an oral anti-anxiety medication, which can relax the patient and make the appointment less stressful.
The primary goal of endodontics is to find and remove the infected or inflamed pulp and to save and restore the tooth’s structure.
Step 1: After confirming the diagnosis, local anesthetic is given to numb the affected area. Most times the tooth will numb completely. If there is still some sensation Dr. Gagnon has several techniques that ensure profound anesthesia before completing the root canal.
Step 2: A dental dam (a thin sheet of rubber or vinyl) is placed over the affected area. The sick tooth will protrude through a hole in the dam, which effectively separates it from the other healthy teeth in the mouth.
The dental dam provides a sterile environment free from the contamination by bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth. This helps so that patients can swallow normally and speak if needed without compromising the procedure.
Step 3: Dr. Gagnon will drill a small hole through the surface of the affected tooth. This step is the same procedure as a filling and so it may be something you have already experienced. At this point if anything is felt then Dr. Gagnon numbs up the tissue inside and profound anesthesia is the result.
Step 4: Dr. Gagnon will use specially designed instruments to remove the diseased and/or dead pulp tissue. Also, once the pulp and all the nerves contained in it are removed, the tooth will no longer have the ability to feel pain to temperature or sweets.
Step 5: The root canals are disinfected with antiseptic and antibacterial solutions to keep the tooth clean and sterile.
Step 6: The root canals are shaped by Dr. Gagnon using ultra-fine and flexible instruments. Dr. Gagnon will wash and clean the root canals one more time while removing any debris that may have been left behind. The canals are dried and are prepared to be filled.
Step 7: Gutta percha which has been used over 130 years in dentistry is then coated with a bio-compatible sealer which seals the canals. Once filled and sealed, the supporting tooth structure around the tooth can heal and the tooth can be used for normal function.
Step 8: If the tooth’s structure is compromised and the restoration will not hold on its own, Dr. Gagnon may place a post made of metal in one of the canals to help with retention. Dr. Gagnon will use permanent filling material to seal the hole that was used to access the pulp chamber. Then the dental dam will also be removed.
Step 9: Sometimes the day of the root canal or within a week or two the tooth is restored to its natural anatomy. This is done with either a filling or a crown. This restoration will protect the tooth from fracturing and also provide a complete seal over the top of the tooth. Sealing the tooth is important, as the area could become infected once more by bacteria from the mouth.
The patient may experience some discomfort following treatment, but aspirin or ibuprofen can usually be enough to halt the pain but if needed a prescription is given. Tenderness to chewing food is typical for one to three days, and in rare cases may persist for up to 3 weeks. If the pain increases an evaluation is warranted and sometimes all is needed is an adjustment of the filling or a steroid to reduce inflammation.
Dr. Gagnon knows from experience that once patients are more informed about endodontics in general, the fear usually lessens, which can lead to a much less stressful appointment, and overall a more rewarding experience.
To learn more about endodontics or to schedule a root canal, contact Care Creek Dental today!