Root Canals: Fact or…

Fact and fiction can seem pretty similar sometimes; it’s hard to know which is which! So it’s always a plus when someone comes along to clarify something.

Dentistry is not immune to the urban legend phenomenon, and one of the challenges we face daily in our Houston, TX dental office is helping people overcome anxiety and fear that are completely misplaced, and only exist as a result of false or misleading information. The worst thing is that these falsehoods are often spread by unscrupulous individuals and organizations who have figured out how to profit by them.

One of the biggest, and in many ways, most needlessly destructive of these mouth myths are those that surround that most dreaded of dental procedures, the root canal (once again, another needless fear, but you won’t be convinced until you’ve read a little more!). We perform root canals regularly in our practice. We’ve heard a few whoppers, and at least on an individual basis (we wish the word would get out more, honestly) we’ve convinced many patients that what they read on the internet isn’t always true, and that the consequences of avoiding a root canal is a dangerous, and potentially deadly mistake.

Root Canal: Fact!

The facts often speak for themselves, but sometimes they need a little help (from talkative dental practices)! Here are the facts about root canals, which is also called endodontic therapy:

Root canals have improved a great deal since the myths about them were started (yes, we know exactly when). Of course, if you had any medical procedure in the 1920’s, you’d probably be right to be fairly suspect! The fact is, that was then, this is now. The modern root canal is no more uncomfortable than a routine cavity filling.

Root canals don’t cause infections; they stop them before they get worse! The reason why a root canal becomes necessary is a tooth infection; you’ll know you have one if you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe toothache that doesn’t go away; it’s usually characterized by throbbing pain.
  • Extreme sensitivity to both hot and cold; it’s common experience to still feel the discomfort, even after the stimulus has been removed.
  • Gums feel tender and swollen; a blemish similar to a pimple may also be observed
  • A tooth that is very different in color from the rest of your teeth; it’s usually much darker

These indicate that you might have an infected tooth, or more specifically, an infected tooth nerve, or the dental pulp has been severely damaged. Anatomically, these are both found in the hollow channels at the center of your tooth, which is called the root canal (hence its use as an abbreviation for root canal therapy/treatment). If this turns out to be the case, your nerve and dental pulp must be removed.

What is the Dental Pulp?

The dental pulp is the tiny organ in the center of each of your teeth. It’s responsible for a number of important functions for the tooth. It provides blood to the tooth through tiny vessels, and it also contains the nerve, making it a sense organ as well! On top of that, it also produces dentin, the substance that makes up the structure of the tooth (below the enamel; the dentin is much softer). The real tragedy of a root canal is that you have to lose such a cool part of your tooth (but we digress).

But, sadly, it is infected with bacteria, and if it isn’t removed, that infection will make its way down the roots, and into the gums. If it goes unaddressed much longer than that, you’ll be in for a lot more pain than you might experience during a root canal (which is none, we emphasize): you’ll get an abscessed tooth, and after that, the stakes get even higher; that infection could eventually get…very, very serious.

It’s a Fact! You could go through all that pain and misery, or…

You could get a root canal, one of the most well-understood dental procedures that, once again, is no more of a challenge to endure than a simple cavity filling. And if you have an infected tooth, you need to come in sooner rather than later, because even if you act before the infection gets really bad, you stand a good chance of losing the tooth entirely! If that happens, congratulations: you’ve just won all-expenses unpaid trip to the oral surgeon for the painful, extremely intensive surgical procedure that is the tooth extraction.

Having your tooth extracted should only happen when everything else has been attempted, and nothing has worked, to save the tooth. The reason for this is there is considerable risk of infection associated with tooth extractions. Gone are the days of the “big pair of pliers”, but rest assured those teeth (which will be cut out, by the way) will leave some big holes in your gum tissue. Needless to say, the chances of post-operative infection are very high. Oh, and clear your schedule, because you’re going to be in recovery for several days, and take our word for it, it won’t be half as much fun as a root canal.

On the other hand, a root canal is non-surgical, which means that you’ll be able to jump right back into your life once it’s over. It’s a fairly straightforward procedure:

A Step-by-Step Guide to A Root Canal

  1. Following the application of a local anesthetic to numb the area, your dentist will prepare the tooth; this may involve opening the tooth a small amount so that the procedure can take place. You won’t feel it though, thanks to the anesthetic.
  2. Your dentist will remove the dental pulp and the nerve; this devitalizes the tooth, but because the risk of infection is so severe after a tooth extraction, it’s always best to leave the tooth in place if possible. Your devitalized tooth will very happily stay where it has always been, and it will be able to keep its job, thanks to the dental crown you’ll need after the procedure has concluded!
  3. The now empty root canals will be thoroughly disinfected, then filled with a natural latex called gutta percha (which is a fun word to know).
  4. You’ll have a crown prepared, which you’ll get during a second appointment; until then, a temporary crown will be placed.

That’s it!

Are You Experiencing Symptoms of An Infected Tooth?

Don’t delay; the longer you wait, the worse your symptoms (and your situation) will become! Watch for our next post where we’ll expose the truth behind the root canal myth! It’s actually more interesting than it seems.

Dial 713-812-1712 to reach our office, or click here to use our handy online appointment form to book your examination now!