“Root canal”—two of the most terrifying words in the English language (except for maybe “tax audit” or “in laws”). It doesn’t sound very pleasant, but in the end a root canal is a good thing—and it won’t be as bad as you think.
What is a root canal?
There are a few reasons you might need a root canal, such as trauma to the face, or because a tooth is chipped, cracked, or has a large filling.
A root canal might also be needed if teeth aren’t taken care of properly and begin to decay. The tooth’s nerve can become infected, or the soft inside of the tooth—known as the pulp—can become damaged, leading to inflammation. When this happens, the bacteria in the tooth multiply, which can cause infection, which can lead to an abscessed tooth, which can lead to a pocket of pus on the gum next to the tooth.
In a root canal, your dentist will clean out the decayed tooth, removing the nerve and the pulp. Then, the tooth is cleaned and sealed up. Not to worry—you won’t even miss the nerve in your tooth, which only serves to let you feel hot or cold.
If you don’t go ahead and get the root canal, your pain will only get worse, and your symptoms more serious. An infected tooth may lead to bone loss around the tooth, swelling in your head, face, and neck, and problems as the tooth tries to get rid of infected pus.
If you are having any of these symptoms, you might need a root canal:
Your tooth is sensitive and painful when you are chewing, or it may be sensitive to the touch. Hot or cold foods or liquids may also cause pain—pain that continues on even after you remove whatever was causing the pain to begin with.
Your gums around the tooth are swollen and sensitive.
Your tooth becomes discolored.
Your tooth hurts so bad that it wakes you up in the middle of the night and you find yourself constantly taking pain medication.
The tooth pain spreads from one tooth to other parts of your mouth, jaw, or head. It might even end up feeling like an earache.
You notice what looks like a pimple on your gums. This “pimple” may release some pus or blood if squeezed.
Does a root canal hurt?
The anticipation of a root canal is actually worse than the root canal itself. Every procedure is different, of course, but many people who have had root canals say that it is no more uncomfortable than getting a dental filling.
What can I expect after my root canal?
After having the procedure, your tooth and the surrounding gums will feel tender and sensitive. Over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen should help with any pain. And, you should avoid using the tooth until the crown or other sealant is placed.
Most people who have a root canal are ready to go back to work the next day.
How can I prevent a root canal?
Instead of a root canal, you could have the entire tooth extracted, and then have an implant or bridge placed. This might sound a bit simpler than a root canal, but in the end it is more expensive and actually does end up taking quite a bit of time.
As with many other dental problems, proper oral hygiene can prevent a root canal. A root canal due to decay and infection can be prevented by brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and visiting your dentist twice a year.