The Hows and Whys of Root Canals

Root canals are a staple of pop culture, chiefly as a metaphor for extreme pain. Whether played for laughs or for fear, root canals are everywhere in television, movies, and fiction. Despite all of this attention, many people are still unclear as to what a root canal actually is and what it does. A relatively common dental procedure, root canals are important in saving damaged or infected teeth and improving or preserving a patient’s oral health. Let’s take a quick look at what goes into a root canal, why your dentist or endodontist might recommend one, and what you can expect from the whole thing.

What is a Root Canal?

Simply put, a root canal involves the removal of infected tissue from the pulp of the tooth, replacing that tissue with a filler material, and then sealing the tooth to prevent further infection. Despite the popular fears around root canals, they’re a routine dental procedure and are generally successful. Thanks to contemporary dental technology, the pain is usually far less than what pop culture would have you believe.

Typically a root canal is performed over two office visits, and generally follows these four steps:

  1. The dentist or endodontist administers an anesthetic to numb the tooth. After the anesthetic has taken effect and the tooth is numb, the dentist/endodontist will usually isolate the tooth using a dental dam—a small rubber barrier that keeps the tooth clean and dry during the procedure.
  2. Using very small tools, including a drill, the dentist/endodontist will create an opening in the top of the tooth in order to access the inner space and the damaged or infected pulp. They will then remove the damaged tissue and clean the inner spaces of the tooth, shaping it as needed. Then they’ll apply an antimicrobial solution in order to prevent further infection.
  3. When the new chamber is clean and dry, the dentist/endodontist will fill it with replacement material, often a rubbery substance called gutta-percha. They’ll then seal the tooth with a temporary filling until the patient is ready for a more permanent solution.
  4. In a second appointment, generally, a few weeks later, the dentist/endodontist will seal the root canal with a permanent crown or filling. When necessary, the dentist/endodontist may place a supporting post inside of the tooth chamber in order to make the crown more stable.

After the Procedure

As we’ve mentioned, root canals are generally successful—to the tune of a 95% success rate. A tooth repaired with a root canal is likely to last a lifetime. The procedure isn’t as painful as it is rumored to be; while many patients experience some discomfort for a few days following the procedure this pain can generally be controlled with an over-the-counter painkiller. Most patients are back to their normal routines the day after the procedure is complete. It’s important to remember, however, every patient is unique and your dentist or endodontist will discuss what you might expect based on their examination and diagnosis.

Get in Touch

At Queen City Dental Arts, we take a personal interest in each and every one of our patients, working with them to ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles and good oral health. Whether you need a root canal or just a regular checkup, get in touch today and make an appointment!