Root canals have a bad reputation. They’re often thought of as complicated, expensive and painful. But this reputation is generally undeserved. Modern methods have made root canals a relatively simple, common procedure with low levels of discomfort.
Of course, you still don’t want to undergo a root canal procedure needlessly. Here’s a look at when a root canal is necessary and what to expect if you need one:
A Look Beyond the Surface of Your Smile
While the white enamel is certainly the most visible part of a tooth, root canals mainly deal with the material inside. Inside your tooth is the pulp, which is a mass of nerves, tissues and blood vessels. Pulp extends down from the tooth into one to three roots.
Pulp is only needed for the development and growth of teeth during childhood. It has no particular function in adults. Unfortunately, even though pulp isn’t very useful, it’s still susceptible to disease and damage. Even worse, because pulp is packed with living tissue, pulp problems can be pretty painful.
Common Sources of Pulp Damage
Enamel is tough stuff, but it can’t protect against everything. Left untreated, decay can enter the interior tooth chamber and cause cavities. Additionally, pulp can become damaged if the tooth itself is knocked out or broken.
If a tooth breaks, the pain can be immediate. In other cases, dental decay can take years to build up before you’ll feel anything wrong. But once pulp pain hits, it’s usually severe – and it won’t go away on its own.
Treating Pain in the Pulp
Pulp problems should be treated quickly. Left untreated, the tooth with eventually fall out. But first, it’s likely to infect other teeth with cavities, in what can be a chain reaction throughout the mouth. Pain can be quite severe and persistent, too, affecting your ability to eat, talk and concentrate.
Removing the tooth will stop the problem. However, pulling a tooth often creates different problems. The open socket creates a space where bacteria can easily thrive. Existing teeth also lose support, which can cause bite and jaw alignment problems. Bridges, dentures and implants can replace missing teeth, but those are separate dental procedures with costs and concerns all their own.
Root Canals are Different than Other Treatments
Root canals remove the damaged pulp but let you keep your natural tooth. During a root canal, the infected pulp is removed and the chamber cleaned out. Special dental material is used to fill the tooth, keeping it stable and free from further decay. The infected material is removed, the pain stopped and your natural tooth remains in place.
Root canal procedures are typically done in the dentist’s office. You’ll be given local anesthetic as well as a mild sedative if necessary, to help with anxiety. Despite their reputation as painful, you’ll likely only experience mild discomfort during the drilling. In many cases, the most unpleasant part is the sound, but your dentist should have earphones with music for you to listen to.
After the chamber is accessed, the pulp is removed and the empty chamber then washed out with antiseptic solutions. Now free from bacteria, the chamber is filled with rubber-like dental filling. Finally, the hole in the tooth is sealed, which prevent future infections.
When Are Root Canals Necessary?
Some pulp damage will be obvious. Your tooth will hurt. The pain can be constant or intermittent. It might occur when you eat or drink something hot, cold or seemingly at random. The pain could be severe, mild or varying levels. But it’ll be clearly originating from your tooth.
Other times, the problem might not be so obvious. Tooth discoloration, gum swelling and tooth sensitivity can all be signs of pulp infection. But in other cases, you might not feel anything wrong at all. That’s why regular dental exams are so important. Your dentist can use x-rays and other techniques to examine the health of your teeth inside and out.
Are Root Canals Expensive?
Depending on your specific needs, root canals can cost from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars. In some cases, dental insurance can help provide financial relief, but you’ll also likely have to deal with annual limits and restrictions on pre-existing conditions.
Dental discount plans are another way to save on root canals. Also called an alternative to dental insurance, discount plans offer savings between 10% and 60% on procedures at over 110,000 dental offices nationwide. Plans offer different types of discounts, so you can likely find a plan which covers root canals at a dentist or endodontist (pulp specialist) near you.
Eliminating pain without requiring tooth removal? We say the root canal deserves a new reputation — as one of the most useful dental procedures available.