What Is A Root Canal?

A root canal is a type of dental surgery most often performed by an oral surgeon called an endodontist, though a general dentist can also do the procedure. The object of the root canal is to remove the infected pulp in the chambers of a tooth. This procedure often saves the tooth, which saves the patient the expense of a dental implant. However, if the tooth cannot be saved, the root canal prepares the area for an implant. Endodontists and dentists perform over fifteen million root canals a year, and over ninety-five percent of the procedures are successful.

Basic Overview Of A Root Canal

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In this procedure, the endodontist examines the patient's mouth and takes X-rays of the area to see the interior structures of the affected tooth. The surgeon also uses X-rays during the surgery and after the surgery to make sure the operation is and was performed successfully. The patient has a choice of several types of anesthesia, including IV sedation or general anesthesia. If the patient chooses general anesthesia, a dental anesthesiologist must be part of the surgical team, and the operation may need to take place in a hospital or clinic instead of the dentist's office. 

There are usually two phases of a root canal. During the first phase, the endodontist drills a hole into the pulp and removes the infected material. They then open up, clean, and shape the root canals with special instruments. They will pack the tooth with medicated gauze and a temporary filling. These are removed after about a week then the cavity is filled with gutta-percha.

When Root Canals Are Recommended

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The conditions for when root canals are recommended are when the pulp of the tooth becomes infected, and the infection does not respond to medications, but keeps recurring. Sometimes, the patient can experience extreme pain from pulpitis as the inflamed tissue presses on the nerves in the tooth. At other times, the patient feels no pain at all as the infection has destroyed the nerves. The tooth can become infected or inflamed because it has been broken and bacteria have invaded it, a cavity has become so deep and large that it has reached the pulp, the tooth has been weakened from too many dental procedures, or there is something wrong with an artificial crown.

What Patients Can Expect

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Though root canals have a fearsome reputation, what patients can expect nowadays is to be comfortable during the procedure. They will discuss what sort of anesthesia will work best for them during their consultation with the endodontist. It is best for the patient to remain awake during the operation so they can follow instructions given by the oral surgeon. During the treatment itself, the patient simply sits in a dentist's chair. The oral surgeon will inject the area around the tooth with a numbing agent, and the patient may have received a sedative or laughing gas. Some endodontists allow their patients to watch a movie or listen to music during the procedure. The operation and the follow-up visit usually take about an hour and a half each.

Advantages Of A Root Canal

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One of the chief advantages of a root canal is it removes the infection from the body. Infected teeth can not only be extremely painful, but it is possible for the infection to migrate to other areas. The pain itself can interrupt the patient's daily life and make it impossible to sleep. Root canals also greatly lower the risk of a dental abscess and its attendant symptoms of fever and malaise. Root canals can also spare the patient's natural tooth, though many teeth treated with one still need a crown. If the tooth cannot be saved, clearing away the infection and inflammation in the area makes it possible for a dental implant or a bridge to be installed.

Root Canal Recovery Process

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The root canal recovery process is not particularly strenuous, and the patient can usually go home soon after the operation. If they have only had a numbing agent and laughing gas, they can often drive themselves home, because laughing gas leaves the system quickly. If the patient has had IV sedation or general anesthesia, they will need to have someone take them home. Once home, they should rinse with warm salt water, gently brush and floss their teeth as they usually do, and take the antibiotics the doctor has prescribed. Patients should take pain relievers as needed. They should also consume soft foods for the first couple of days after the treatment. Recovery should be complete after about two weeks.

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