The term “root canal” often conjures up unpleasant images from the past. Thankfully, dentistry has evolved, and this treatment can now be regarded with similar ease as any other procedure with your dentist.

Our patients still have questions, naturally, and here are answers to six common queries about root canals.

Why do I need it?

Your dentist likely recommended this treatment because the pulp—tissue—of a tooth has become infected. This pulp chamber in the centre of the tooth connects with the canals, which contain the tooth’s nerves. Infections come about when bacteria enters the inside of the tooth, often through a deep cavity or a cracked tooth. When an infection occurs, it is critical to remove the damaged tissue before an abscess or severe pain result.

How can I tell my tooth is infected?

Most of our patients notice one or more of the follow symptoms when a tooth infection is present:

  • Hot or cold sensitivity
  • Sensitivity to sweets
  • Pressure sensitivity or tenderness when chewing
  • Bad breath and a foul taste in the mouth
  • Throbbing toothache and/or tenderness around the affected tooth

Sometimes, however, no symptoms of infection are present. For this reason we recommend visiting your dentist on a regular basis so there are no surprises.

Does it hurt?

Dental advancements have allowed root canal procedures to become much less painful than in years passed. In fact, the treatment itself is relatively pain free. Our patients often comment that the procedure is a similar experience as having a filling placed.

By using modern analgesics, most patients tend only to feel a pressure during the procedure. Afterwards, as the medication wears off, you may notice some swelling or discomfort in the treated area for a few days. This can be managed with an over-the-counter pain medication. Severe pain following treatment is very uncommon, and you should contact your dentist if this persists.

What does the procedure involve?

These are usually completed in one or two appointments. First, our team will x-ray the area to determine the length of the roots, angulation of the tooth and severity of the infection. Then we administer local anesthetic to ensure no pain results during the procedure.

We then drill a small hole into the tooth and remove any infected pulp, followed by a thorough cleansing of the canals. This washes away any remaining pulp and debris, ensuring the inside of the tooth is bacteria-free.

The final step is to seal the tooth. Depending on the stage of the infection, we may seal the tooth right away. Otherwise, the dentist may need to medicate the tooth to further clear up the infection. At this time, an antibiotic may also be prescribed to clear up any infection around the tooth.

What happens if I leave the infection untreated?

These procedure allows you to save the tooth and completed early on could save a lot of pain and inconvenience. Left untreated, the tooth may need to be extracted. The infection may also spread to surrounding teeth, into the jaw bone, and throughout the body.

Is there an alternative to a root canal?

If your dentist recommends this procedure, it is because the tooth can likely be saved. The only other alternative is to remove the tooth and have it replaced with an implant or bridge. While this option is fine for patients with no alternatives, saving the tooth is more beneficial for the overall health of your mouth. Extraction of the tooth also requires more appointments to correct the damage.