Root Canal Treatment: What to Expect

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Root canals are incredibly common, but are often feared. Modern dentistry ensures that a root canal is nearly pain-free, but myths and misunderstandings are rampant. Knowing what to expect from root canal treatment can ease your mind and help you relax as you await an upcoming root canal.

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What Is a Root Canal?

To perform a root canal, the dentist first ensures that the tooth is completely numb. The next step is to create a small opening down through the tooth into its root chamber, exposing the canals. The canals are then thoroughly cleaned, smoothed, and reshaped. A post may be placed if necessary to support the tooth, and the canals are filled with a biocompatible sealing material. Finally, a temporary filling is created to protect the tooth while a crown is made.

Why Are Root Canals Performed?

A root canal can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted. Trauma and tooth decay are the most common reasons for a tooth’s pulp tissue to become infected, necessitating a root canal.

Some teeth that need root canals show no symptoms, but this is relatively rare. More often, you will experience such symptoms as swelling in the gums, severe pain when chewing, temperature sensitivity in the tooth, or tooth discoloration.

If the tooth is left untreated, it may become abscessed. Abscesses can cause severe pain and swelling, and leakage of blood or pus from the gum tissue. Eventually, an abscess can cause more damage, grow around the bone, and even lead to systemic infection.

Are Root Canals Painful?

Modern root canals are no more painful than any other dental work. In fact, since a tooth that needs a root canal can feel excruciating, many patients feel significantly better right away. If you do experience any pain or discomfort during the procedure, tell your dentist immediately, as you will need additional numbing medication.

What Should I Expect Afterward?

After the numbing medication wears off, it is common to feel some mild discomfort. This can be relieved by a mild, over the counter painkiller. The tooth may be sensitive to temperature extremes and chewing forces for a few days, so it is best to avoid chewing directly on it until this subsides. Of course, if you experience pain at any time, it is best to call your dentist immediately. Most people feel entirely normal in just two to three days.

Are Root Canals Risky?

Root canals are considered very safe, but there is a slight risk of complications from any medical or dental procedures. The most common, though still very rare, risk is re-infection. This could happen if your dentist missed any infected canals, or if the sealing material breaks down over time. If you experience any pain or symptoms of infection, call your dentist right away.

What Should I Expect Long-Term?

The overall effectiveness rate of root canals is around 95%, and many teeth never need further treatment. While waiting for your permanent crown, it is best to avoid biting or chewing directly on the tooth. After your crown is placed, though, the tooth will look and function just like any other. With proper oral hygiene and regular dentist visits, you are unlikely to have any further problems.

What Are the Alternatives to a Root Canal?

The only alternative to a root canal is extraction, after which the tooth can be replaced with a dental implant, a bridge, or a partial denture. These are excellent solutions for teeth that cannot be saved, but ultimately nothing is as good as your own natural tooth. If your tooth can be saved with a root canal, it is highly recommended.

North Shore & Brookline Endodontics is a specialty dental practice limited to endodontic therapy, with six clinics in the greater Boston area. Our mission is to use our knowledge and experience in root canal therapy to save teeth that would otherwise be lost. If you are searching for a skilled, compassionate endodontist in greater Boston, call the closest office today to learn how we can help.