Is Root Canal Safe? Procedure, Benefits, And Recovery

Overview

A root canal (endodontics) is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that has badly decayed or been infected. Root canal treatment is designed to eliminate the bacteria from the infected root canal, prevent reinfection of the tooth, and save the natural tooth. 

Generally, during a root canal, the inflamed or infected pulp is removed and the
inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed.

Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected and abscesses may form.

Anatomy Of Your Tooth

A tooth is made up of 2 parts:

  1. The crown: This is the top part of the tooth that’s visible in the mouth.
  2. The root: This extends into the bone of the jaw, keeping the tooth in its proper position.

Your teeth also have:

  • Enamel: the outer coating of the tooth which is very hard
  • Dentine: a relatively softer material supporting the enamel. This is what your tooth is mostly made of.
  • Cementum: covering the surface of the  root
  • Dental pulp: the soft tissue at the center of the tooth

The root canal system contains the dental pulp and is located from the crown of the tooth to the end of the root.

One tooth can have 1 or sometimes 2 root canals.

Why It’s Done

The pulp at the center of your teeth, located beneath the white enamel and the hard dentine, contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue, and is responsible for the growth of your teeth and their development.

When dental X-ray confirmes that the pulp inside the tooth has been damaged and infected, a root canal treatment can be performed to save the tooth.

The infections at the center of your tooth are due to some bacteria that live in the mouth and invade the tooth.

This can happen after:

  • Tooth decay
  • Leaky fillings
  • Damage to teeth caused by trauma or injury

The symptoms of a pulp infection include:

  • Pain while eating and drinking hot or cold foods and beverages
  • Pain while biting or chewing
  • A loose tooth

If the infection becomes more advanced, the pulp in the tooth can die, and therefore some symptoms might disappear along with it.

While your tooth can then appear to be infection-free and healed, in fact, the infection has spread through the root canal system.

This may cause you to develop symptoms such as:

  • Pain when biting or chewing returning
  • Swelling of the gum near the affected tooth
  • Pus oozing from the affected tooth
  • Facial swelling
  • The tooth becoming a darker color

If your tooth is infected, the affected pulp cannot be treated by itself, so it is important to visit your dentist if you develop any of these symptoms.

If left in the mouth, the infected tooth can cause more problems, making it harder for your dentist to treat, and reducing the chances of the root canal treatment working.

Antibiotics, which treat bacterial infections, in these cases are not effective in treating root canal infections.

When the infection in the tooth progresses into ends of the roots of the tooth, a part of the tooth becomes hollow.

An infection in the root canal of a tooth can also cause:

  • Swelling in other areas of the face, neck, or even head
  • Loss of bone around the ends of the root
  • Drainage problems. The infection can cause a hole to develop at the side of your tooth which will then cause drainage into the gums or occur through the cheek with drainage into the skin.

Benefits Of A Root Canal

Depending on the condition of your tooth and your personal circumstances, root canals can usually be completed in one or two appointments and are very similar to routine filling procedures.

 Despite what many believe, a root canal procedure is relatively painless and extremely effective, due to saving the natural tooth with the treatment.  

Saving the natural tooth with root canal treatment has several advantages:

  • Efficient chewing
  • Normal biting force and sensation
  • Natural appearance
  • Protects surrounding teeth from excessive wear or strain

How It’s Done

1) Taking an X-ray: X-rays are required so that your dentist can see the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs of infection and the extent, in a surrounding bone.

2) Local Anesthesia: SSince the nerve of the tooth is already diseased, anesthesia is not specifically vital, but regardless, most dentists will use local anesthesia to numb the area near the tooth and make the patient more relaxed.

3) A rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) is placed around the tooth to keep the area dry and free of saliva during the procedure.

4) Your doctor will then drill an access hole into your tooth and remove the pulp along with the bacteria, the decayed nerve tissue, and other related debris from your tooth.

5) Next, your dentist will subsequently place a series of root canal files through the access hole and down the full length of the tooth. This is done to clean and thoroughly scrub the sides of the root canals.

 For this step, your dentist will use water or sodium hypochlorite regularly to flush away the debris.

6) Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, it is sealed. Depending on your doctor’s technique, they may recommend you to wait a week before they seal the tooth. If this is the case, a temporary filling is placed in the exterior hole in the tooth to keep out contaminants like saliva and food between appointments.

7) At the next appointment, to fill the interior of the tooth, your dentist will place a sealer paste and a rubber compound called gutta-percha into the tooth’s root canal.

8) To fill the exterior access hole created at the beginning of treatment, a filling is placed.

9) Restoration often needs to be placed on the tooth to protect it, prevent it from breaking, and restore it to full function, because the tooth that needs a root canal, is often one that has a large filling or extensive decay or other weakness, a crown, crown, and post.

Your dentist will discuss the need for any additional dental work with you.

Recovery

It’s important to care and look after your dental hygiene when recovering from root canal treatment.

After your final treatment, you may feel some degree of sensitivity for a few days, but the tooth itself should not be in pain.

Your dentist may prescribe painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to relieve any pain or discomfort.

Your dentist will recommend you to:

  • Refrain from eating until the numbness is completely gone
  • avoid biting on hard foods until the completion of your treatment
  • return to your dentist if pain or swelling don’t subside after the use of painkillers

In most cases, it’s possible to prevent the need for further root canal treatment by:

  • keeping your teeth clean 
  • avoid eating excessive amounts of sugary food
  • Quitting smoking

Although you will most likely be numb for 2-4 hours following the procedure, most patients are able to return to school or work directly following a root canal treatment.

 

Complications/Risks

Sometimes regardless of having a previous root canal, new infections might occur.

This may be caused by:

  • More than the normally anticipated number of root canals in a tooth (leaving one of them uncleaned) 
  • An undetected crack in the root of a tooth 
  • A defective or inadequate dental restoration that has allowed bacteria to get past the restoration into the inner aspects of the tooth and recontaminate the area 
  • A breakdown of the inner sealing material over time, allowing bacteria to recontaminate the inner aspects of the tooth

If infection occurs, sometimes retreatment can be successful, and other times endodontic surgery must be tried to save the tooth.

An apicoectomy or root-end resection – The most common endodontic surgical procedure – is performed by opening the gum tissue, removing the infected tissue, and sometimes the very end of the root as well.

Next, your dentist may place a small filling to seal the root canal. 

This procedure helps relieve the inflammation or infection in the bony area around the end of your tooth that continues after endodontic treatment.

 

Alternatives To A Root Canal

Instead of root canals, extraction and replacement of the tooth are sometimes recommended. After the tooth is removed, your dentist can replace it with a bridgeimplant, or removable partial denture to maintain or restore chewing function and prevent your surrounding teeth from shifting.

While they can work, these alternatives are relatively more expensive than a root canal treatment and require more time for completion and procedures done to the surrounding teeth.

If possible, it is often recommended on saving your natural teeth as it is the very best option. Your natural teeth allow you to eat a wide variety of foods necessary to maintain proper nutrition and therefore, a root canal procedure is the treatment of choice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How painful is a root canal?

While root canals are notoriously known to be painful, with modern technology and anesthetics you won’t feel any more pain than if you went to have a cavity filled.

The severe pain caused by an infectious tooth can be easily treated with the removal of the damaged tissue through a successful root canal treatment.

How Successful Are Root Canals?

Root canal treatment cases have a high success rate of 95%. In most cases, many of the teeth that were remedied by a root canal have long-term results and can last for a person’s entire lifetime.

Root Canals Or Tooth Retraction? Which One Is Better?

Tooth extraction and replacement are not only more costly to have, but also requires additional time and energy to endure excessive procedures to the surrounding teeth.

A root canal, on the other hand, has higher success rates and can last a lifetime in comparison to replacement materials such as bridges, implants, or dentures.

Therefore, saving your natural teeth by root canal procedure, if possible, is always the best option. Nothing artificial can replace the look or function of a natural tooth so it’s important to always consider root canal treatment as an option.

Remember to discuss with your dentist what the best option of treatment is.

If you have further questions or uncertainties about treatments, you can always discuss your inquiries with our free medical consultation services.

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