If we did a “Person on the Street” interview and asked folks in Kennewick, WA what dental procedure worries them the most and causes them the most anxiety, we wouldn’t be surprised to see root canal at the top of the list. The root canal treatment, or endodontic therapy as it is sometimes called, is certainly one of the most dreaded (and misunderstood) dental procedures; but is it really something to be afraid of?
The fact of the matter is, a root canal is a serious procedure, but it shouldn’t inspire anxiety in you as a patient if you need one. It may be true that once, many years ago, getting a root canal was a marginally risky undertaking. Today, with modern technology and greater understanding of oral disease and health, a root canal is no more uncomfortable than having a cavity filled. Today, we’re going to talk about root canals, how they work, and why you really shouldn’t fear them. Not only are root canals less traumatic, less painful, and are completely safe today, but we can add an extra layer of assurance with sedation dentistry.
I’ve Always Been Afraid of Root Canals, But I’ve Never Understood What A Root Canal Actually Is!
You’re not alone! The reason why so many people have anxiety when it comes to getting a root canal has more to do with how people perceive the procedure than it does with what actually is involved in the procedure.
Why Would I Need a Root Canal?
Your teeth are pretty strong, but they can break. Teeth can fracture and chip due to injury, disease, and decay. When this happens, the oral bacteria that naturally lives in your mouth (don’t worry, everyone else has oral bacteria as well; it’s just part of having a mouth and living on planet Earth) can get inside the tooth. Your tooth isn’t a kind of rock that grows in your mouth.
Like your organs, muscles, and skeleton, your teeth are complex, dynamic systems. Inside each tooth, below the protective layer of enamel and the dentin (the substance that provides your tooth with structural strength) is an organ called the dental pulp. The dental pulp is a bundle of nerves and tissues that provides the tooth with nutrients and blood flow, and it is responsible for producing dentin, among other things.
The bacteria that enter the fracture or crack will infect the dental pulp; this will cause a lot of pain, as well as sensitivity to temperatures (both hot and cold). Swelling of the face and even bone loss can result also, and if the infection goes unaddressed for too long, it can even form a pus-filled sack on your gums called an abscess. An abscess will give you more pain, and it can even make you very sick, and it might even be life threatening.
So What Goes On During a Root Canal?
First of all, we should point out that technically, the term “root canal” doesn’t refer to the procedure; the root canal (or canals, depending on the tooth) are part of your tooth’s anatomy. Root canals are the hollow spaces inside your tooth that houses the nerves and the dental pulp. That’s why you’ll sometimes see the procedure referred to as endodontic therapy (but for our purposes here, we’ll still use “root canal”).
The objective of a root canal is the removal of the infected dental pulp. Your dentist will, after providing you with anesthetic, carefully open your tooth, and remove the dental pulp. Once the pulp is gone, your dentist will disinfect the root canals thoroughly (you may also get a prescription for antibiotics after the procedure). While the dental pulp is what keeps your teeth “alive”, it isn’t critical to the tooth’s primary job of grinding and chewing food. However, because your tooth won’t be able to produce its own dentin, it will need to be protected from further damage, which is why you will also receive a dental crown. Immediately after the procedure, you’ll get a temporary crown; temporary crowns are fragile, and you’ll need to really stick to your dentist’s instructions for its care to prevent breakage, which can result in further infections. It will take a couple weeks for your permanent crown to be fabricated.
Thanks For the Info…But I’m STILL AFRAID. What Can I Do?
With modern dental technology and know-how, root canals have become routine, safe, and generally complication-free (especially if you follow all the dentist’s instructions about what to do post-procedure). They are also only as uncomfortable as a having a cavity filled. Getting a cavity filled might make you a little worried, but in our experience, most of that is actually caused by guilt:
“I’m so embarrassed I have a cavity; I should have taken better care of my teeth!”.
However, some of our patients have a very difficult time getting comfortable in the dentist’s office; even the waiting room can be a source of stress. For these patients, the idea of getting a root canal is absolutely terrifying. If this sounds like you, you might be suffering from a condition called dental anxiety, and it’s a problem because it will make you avoid the dental treatments you need to eliminate or avoid serious problems with your oral health.
If you need a root canal, and you avoid it for too long (for whatever reason, but for most who do, it’s dental anxiety) you risk even worse infection, and tooth loss will result. Once these things take place, you will have no choice but to come in for treatments that can be much more traumatic, like a tooth extraction for example.
To help you get over your root canal nervousness (or anxiety associated with any dental procedure), Marineland Dental Care offers sedation dentistry. Sedation dentistry will help you relax enough to get the care you need, with little discomfort.
Sedation dentistry is simple in our practice: we’ll provide you with a sedative that you take about an hour before your appointment. By the time you’re in the chair, you’ll experience a deep, profound sense of relaxation, but you won’t feel druggy, and you won’t lose consciousness (some people do fall asleep; we’ll wake you up though, because your dentist needs to be able to communicate with you during the procedure). If necessary, we can enhance the oral sedative with nitrous oxide gas, sometimes called laughing gas.
Don’t Let an Infected Tooth Get Worse Just Because You’re Afraid of the Dentist!
Fix your infected tooth before it gets worse! If you don’t, it definitely will get worse.
Call us today! Dial 509-591-0515, or click here to use our online appointment form.