If your dentist has recently told you that you need a root canal, you probably have a lot of questions about what to expect at your next appointment. In this article, we’ll address some basic things you need to know before you get your first root canal.
Why do I need a root canal?
If one of your teeth is infected because of decay or trauma, then a root canal is the most comfortable and affordable option to preserve the tooth. It’s typically the go-to treatment in order to save the natural tooth. A root canal procedure is usually a lot less painful than extraction and it also has a shorter recovery time. Many patients say that root canal pain is similar to the discomfort of getting a filling.
Some other reasons your dentist might suggest a root canal include:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Suffering from positional pain; for example, if your pain gets worse when you lie down
- Spontaneous pain
- An abscess in your jawbone
- A fistula on the gum
What happens during a root canal?
During a root canal procedure, your dentist will be working to get rid of all the infected pulp surrounding your problem tooth by drilling into it. Then, they will clean it out as well as shape the inside of your tooth before filling and sealing it to prevent future issues.
Sometimes, you will only need a filling; however there are other situations where that is not enough. Your dentist might need you to come back for a follow-up appointment to have a crown put on your tooth. This helps further protect your tooth so you can use it to chew comfortably again.
A root canal can take a couple of hours, where you will be seated in a chair with your mouth open. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. Ask your dentist if you are allowed to listen to music or a podcast during the procedure. It could help you pass the time and distract you from what’s going on.
Your dentist will use a local anesthesia to help you feel as comfortable as possible. It will make the area around your problem tooth numb so you won’t feel anything. They’ll likely take some x-rays to use as guides while they work. Your dentist might also choose to use a rubber dental dam to help prevent contamination once the tooth is opened up. It also prevents any objects from falling and getting into the mouth and throat.
Here are a few examples of some questions you might consider asking your dentist before agreeing to a root canal treatment:
- Is a root canal absolutely necessary?
- What are my other options?
- Is it possible my tooth will recover without a root canal?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Will my infection spread to other teeth or parts of my mouth?
After the Procedure
After your root canal procedure, you can expect your gums and lips to be numb for a few hours. You might think that you can go back to normal daily life, but your dentist may ask you to wait until a crown is in place. This is because chewing using your treated tooth can result in new cracks if it is still fragile.
Once your anesthetic has worn off, you might feel sore, sensitive, or have some pain. This can last for a few days after the procedure. Try to keep your head in an elevated position while you sleep to help with this, or your dentist might also recommend some medications for the pain.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s important to get in touch with your dentist right away:
- Signs of infection
- A rash or any other type of allergic reaction
- Uneven bite
- Excessive pain
- Excessive bleeding
Don’t Wait to Get Your Root Canal Done
Once your dentist recommends a root canal, it’s best to get the procedure over with sooner rather than later. This is because the infection can worsen, causing more damage and further complications. Make sure you receive the appropriate treatment in a timely manner, as it will help get you back to chewing and speaking normally without any mouth pain.
What if my root canal fails?
Root canals have a high success rate. However, even the best root canal treatments can sometimes fail due to anatomy and resistant bacteria. The good news is that most treatments that fail can be successfully retreated.
Here are some reasons why a root canal treatment may fail:
- Not maintaining proper oral hygiene
- Getting a crack or leak to the crown placed over the treated tooth
- An endodontic tool getting lodged in the canal
- The presence of an extra canal
- An inability for the dentist to navigate the canals
If you have a failure during the procedure, your healthcare provider will try their best to take the proper next steps to minimize complications and ensure the best outcome possible as a patient. If there is a failure after the procedure, it could take a while for symptoms to be detected due to the nerves and blood vessels being removed from the tooth.
This is why regular checkups with your dentist are important for early detection if the root canal fails. Failures occur more often in the back teeth, since they have more roots and are harder to remove, clean, and treat.
Root canals can seem like a frightening procedure, but once you learn more about them you should be able to overcome your fear. Your dentist will be able to treat your tooth and you will see that it was all worth it in the end, because you will feel much better after it is finished.