What is Root Canal Therapy?

Is Root Canal Therapy Painful?

Over the years, root canal therapy (also known as endodontic therapy or endodontic treatment) has gotten a very bad rap. For millions of American adults, the words “root canal” often conjure up images of a grotesquely invasive and very painful procedure that many people attempt to avoid at all costs, even when that means putting their own oral and general health at risk!

The fact is that the negative or scary aspects that we associate with root canals are likely based off of experiences people had decades ago and are simply no longer true today in modern dentistry. The “good ol’ days” really were not all that good when it came to the world of dentistry. Anesthetics were neither readily available, nor were they used often. Many of the bad experiences or horror stories people have heard regarding root canals (like stories of patients having to submit themselves to torturous procedures with no anesthetic) come from the relatively distant past and are no longer rooted in reality. Today, nearly all patients who undergo root canal therapy experience a simple and painless procedure that utilizes all the new technologies and methods that modern dentistry has to offer.

Why Would I Need Root Canal Therapy?

Root canal therapy is necessary when the dental pulp (soft tissue located inside the root canal, containing blood vessels and nerves) becomes inflamed or infected. This inflammation and/or infection of the dental pulp may occur for a number of reasons; the most common causes are deep cavities, cracked and chipped teeth or a serious injury to the tooth that resulted in pulp damage.

If left untreated, the inflammation or infection of the dental pulp within just one tooth can spread to the surrounding tissues, resulting in pain, swelling and even severe bone damage. Simply put, without root canal therapy the infection will continue to spread and one or more teeth may need to be removed.

What Can I Expect During (and After) Undergoing Root Canal Therapy?

The truth of the matter is that a root canal procedure is actually rather comparable to having a cavity filled.

Your endodontist or dentist will start by examining the infected tooth and administering a local anesthetic, numbing the tooth and surrounding areas. A small opening is made in the crown of the tooth and a series of very small, virtually unnoticeable instruments are used to remove all the infected dental pulp from the pulp chamber and root canals. After the infected pulp is removed the space is then cleaned and shaped in preparation for filling.

Next, your dentist or endodontist will hermetically fill the sterilized area with a rubber-like, biocompatible product known as gutta-percha, held in place by medical-grade adhesive cement, and place a temporary filling to cover the opening.

Most root canals procedures will require a second visit, so the temporary filling can be removed and replaced with a crown to securely seal off the opening and finish the process. Because the unrestored tooth is very susceptible to cracking and fracturing, it is very important to avoid chewing or biting with the treated tooth until your dentist has completed the restoration.

After undergoing root canal therapy, it is normal to experience mild pain within the treated tooth and surrounding areas for a few days. However, if this pain becomes worse or persists for more than 3 days you should contact your dentist for a follow-up appointment.

Most teeth treated with root canal therapy will last as long as your natural teeth and (with proper oral hygiene routines) will continue to live problem-free for years to come!