A root canal is probably the dental treatment that evokes nightmares in anyone that is afraid of the dentist. For some reason, root canal treatment has attracted incredibly negative connotations and is viewed as being up there with the most horrible dental treatment that could ever be inflicted on you.
Before we decide whether this treatment is painful or not, we need to find out exactly what it is we’re talking about.
What is a Root Canal?
The root canal is a tube that contains ‘pulp’ within our teeth. The pulp is a mixture of dental cells, tissue fibers, blood vessels and nerve fivers. It is this pulp that is responsible for providing the nutrients that cause our teeth to grow and develop during adolescence.
Once the teeth have reached full maturity, they don’t need the ‘pulp’ anymore as they can draw their nutrients from the tissue of in the gums. So essentially, the root canal becomes a rather useless feature of our mouths after we have reached maturity. In fact, 90% to 95% of people will retain full function of their teeth even after this sort of treatment.
What is Root Canal Infection?
Root canal infection is what occurs when the pulp inside the canal starts to decay and become infected. This decay can cause abscesses in the canal, which become painful little pockets of pus.
Signs That I Have An Infection
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should visit your dentist as quickly as possible:
- Sudden, unexplained dental pain
- Increased sensitivity to hot and cold food and beverages
- Swelling around the teeth and face
- Inflamed gums which cause pain when biting or chewing food
- Visible pus in the infected area
Causes of Infection
The main causes of root canal infection include:
- Untreated tooth decay
- Previous deep filling which is close to the nerve
- Dental trauma, such as knocks
So, Is It Painful?
Like anything to do with pain and sensations, it’s all rather relative. Some people experience more pain when they stub their toe than if they break their arm. Some people will walk around for weeks on a broken foot, while others will admit themselves to hospital if they sprain their ankle.
For most people, the pain caused by an infected root canal is far more severe than the treatment itself. In fact, most patients report that a root canal treatment is no more painful than having a filling fitted. Like most medical procedures, it’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be.
What Happens During a Root Canal Treatment?
- X-rays will be taken to find the exact location and the number of roots that are infected.
- Local anesthetic will be applied to the infected area, meaning after that initial little pinch of the needle you won’t feel a thing.
- A dental dam is used to isolate the infected tooth and to keep the area sterile.
- A hole is made in the tooth so the dentist can locate the root canal.
- The diseased pulp is then removed and the canal is thoroughly cleaned.
- Gutta-Percha will then be used to fill in the cleaned and sterilised canal, protecting it from further infection.
- A temporary filling will be used to restore the structure of the tooth and a crown may be recommended in order to give the tooth protection from possible future fractures.
So, for the entire procedure there is usually only one instance where you will feel any pain and even that can be dulled. The slight jab of the tiny anaesthetic needle is the only thing you have to brace yourself for, and even that will be dulled by the application of the numbing gel. The pain of an infected root canal can be excruciating, but the treatment itself is less to worry to about.
What Happens if I Don’t Get My Root Canal Treated?
Well, firstly, you won’t be a very enjoyable person to be around because you’ll spend a lot of your time in agonizing pain. Secondly, an untreated infection can spread to your gums and even your face which can lead to abscesses and loss of bone in the affected area. Loss of bone density in your jaw is a precursor to tooth loss.
This is just a small example of the effects of leaving infected root canals untreated. So, don’t believe in all the bogeyman stories about root canal treatments. They’re not as scary as they’re made out to be and the consequences are just too great to go without treatment.
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