During a root canal, an endodontist (a doctor who treats the inside of the tooth) removes the infected part of the tooth’s inner root, cleans and refills the space, and seals the tooth with a new crown to restore its original function. Although stereotypes suggest that root canals are extremely painful, most patients are comfortable during the procedure and only experience mild tooth sensitivity for a few days afterward.
What is a Root Canal?
At the innermost layer of the tooth’s root is a soft tissue, called “pulp,” which connects the crown of the tooth to the tips of the roots under the gums. Because fully-grown teeth don’t require a pulp to survive, root canal procedures remove any infected pulp, fill the space remaining, and provide a new functional crown to the top of the tooth.
Root canals are performed on patients with damage to the tooth’s inner layer, including but not limited to:
- Inner decay.
- Chipped or cracked tooth.
- Tooth trauma.
- Repeated surgery or dental procedures on the tooth.
A root canal treatment is administered with a local anesthetic to numb the tooth and surrounding tissue. During a root canal, the endodonist creates a small opening in the crown of the tooth, through which the infected pulp is removed and a new filling is placed. Once the tooth begins to heal, your dentist will place a new crown on your filling to restore the tooth to its previous strength. This procedure saves your natural tooth and often looks and feels completely normal once fully healed.
Signs You May Need a Root Canal
Root canals are administered when the inner layer of the tooth is damaged, often affecting the deep nerves within the pulp. Because tooth decay can happen gradually without symptoms, routine dental checkups are recommended to help catch any damages early on and prevent the necessity of a root canal. Symptoms of inner tooth decay include:
- Tooth discoloration.
- Extreme toothache.
- Headaches associated with the jaw region.
- Severe sensitivity.
- Tooth intolerance to heat or cold.
- Gum tenderness and swelling.
- Recurring gum sensitivity or sores.
After your root canal, you should refrain from chewing with your treated tooth until recommended by your dentist. Good oral hygiene, including brushing, flossing, rinsing with mouthwash, and regular dental checkups are all that is required to maintain a healthy tooth after a root canal. The restored tooth functions like your other teeth, and lasts as long as a natural tooth. In rare cases, pain remains after a root canal procedure, but a vast majority of patients experience complete pain relief and reduced sensitivity after their root canal procedure.
Even after a root canal fully heals, it is important to continue to see your dentist for routine checkups. Because teeth may crack or break down without pain or physical symptoms, a root can become infected from within and require more extensive surgery on the tooth. However, most root canal treatments result in relief of all or most tooth pain, and are permanently successful. Speak with your dentist about your symptoms to determine if a root canal is right for you, and follow up with routine checkups to track the health of your teeth.