Root Canal Rumor Mill, Part 1

If you’re experiencing tooth pain when you try to eat or drink hot or cold foods, or if your gums are swollen and tender or they have what looks like a “pimple” you might need endodontic therapy, also known as a root canal.

“A root canal? Aren’t those painful and even dangerous?”

There’s a lot of stuff online about root canals, and the majority of it is at best misleading. This bad information keeps people from seeking the care they need. This is true not only in Kennewick, WA, but all over the country.
While a few people (about 5% to 8% of the population) do suffer from dental phobia, when it comes to root canals, the majority of people are nervous because of preconceived notions of what root canals are, and the warnings they’ve read online about the negative health effects some claim they cause (they don’t cause any; we’ll get into that more in our next post).

ROOT CANAL MYTH: Root canals are extremely painful, and are very traumatic for the patient.

In the old days, this was true! A root canal WAS extremely painful, and required multiple appointments at the dentist’s office. However, advances in dental technology and techniques have reduced the pain, time, and trauma associated with root canals. Today, a root canal is no more uncomfortable than a filling and takes only one appointment.

Most of our patients who have had a root canal are often surprised at how easy the procedure was relative to what they expected.

“Why do I need a root canal?”

Root canals happen when the tooth’s pulp becomes infected. The pulp is the bundle of nerves and tissue inside the tooth. Your mouth (actually, anyone’s mouth) is home to lots and lots of bacteria. This bacteria is part of your mouth’s eco-system, and when they’re where they’re supposed to be, they play a role in keeping you healthy. Problems arise when a tooth becomes broken: as a result of an injury or a cavity, perhaps. When this happens, the bacteria in your mouth make their way into the pulp of the tooth. Once infected, the tooth becomes extremely painful, sensitive to temperatures, and it may even become noticeably discolored. The gums will also become swollen and tender.

“What happens during a root canal?”

Your dentist will:

  • Take x-rays of your teeth; this will allow them to identify the specific problem.
  • Apply a local anesthetic to the tooth and the area around it.
  • Open the tooth, and remove the infected pulp.
  • Disinfect the now empty canal, and shape it to prepare it for a filling.
  • Fill the tooth with a rubbery substance called “gutta-percha”, a type of natural latex.
  • Place a restoration, usually a crown or a post inside the tooth; both help the tooth keep its structure, and which one will be determined by the tooth’s condition following the procedure.

This will all take place in one appointment (except the place of the permanent crown), and most people are fully recovered the same day. Though you’ll probably want to avoid eating immediately after the procedure, you’ll very quickly be able to do so with no restrictions on your diet.

The goal of a root canal is to save your natural tooth; this is the best possible outcome, as your natural teeth are better at doing their job than any implant.

It’s really that easy! If you’ve had a filling before, then you know what to expect during a root canal. There is no reason to delay it, and the longer you do, the more pain you will experience. If you wait too long, the bacteria will travel through the tooth, down the roots, and into the gums. This will form an abscess, a pus-filled area that can be deadly if left untreated.

More to Come!

The “pain and trauma” myth is just the tip of the iceberg. In our next blog, we’ll tackle the other myths associated with root canals.

If you’re experiencing pain, it can’t hurt to come in for an appointment and have your dentist perform an examination. Remember that a root canal doesn’t cause pain, it prevents it.

Click here to make an appointment online, or call us directly at 509-591-0515.

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