A conversation can easily turn sour when someone mentions the term root canal. Many people cringe at the thought of their friends and family needing one and are outright scared if they need it. With the recent advances in technology however, root canals are actually not unpleasant at all. In fact, as long as you're receiving care from a qualified dentist, the only twinge of Pain you'll feel are from those blessed Novocain injections. Read on for a basic guide to how the process works and you will have a relatively clear idea as to what's happening to your tooth.
What is a root canal?
This treatment consists of the dentist drilling a hole through the chewing surface of your tooth to reach the nerve inside the tooth which is referred to as the pulp. The pulp extends down the tooth's root and must be removed so that infection can be cured or prevented. Thin metal wires are inserted into the tooth down to the base of the root canal and the pulp is extracted. This prevents it from getting irritated in the future and causing pain which can result from an infection, chewing or sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks.
Once the pulp is removed, most dentists will fill the canals with a rubbery gel, effectively sealing it off. This step will prevent bacteria from making it back into the cavity and causing future problems for the patient. The chewing surface is then replaced with a temporary filling which remains for at least two weeks before a permanent filling or a crown is put in.
What's the process like?
When you first sit down in the chair for the procedure, the dentist will typically give you a brief overview of what the process consists of. Next, the areas where the Novocain will be injected are rubbed with topical gel that lightly numbs the space where the need will be injected. Then the shots are given, usually between 2-4 injections, and you'll be left to wait a few minutes while the anesthetic works its magic. After about 15 minutes, the doctor will return and begin working.
The dentist must reach the root in order to extract the pulp from the canal. This step entails a fair amount of drilling. Most dentists will use what's called a "parachute," a rubber disk with a whole in the center that fits snugly over your tooth to isolate it. This prevents any stray bits of tooth from going down your throat. Once the drilling starts, it should be completely painless with the Novocain numbing the area. When the pulp is exposed the doctor will use several different colored rods to determine the depth of the canal and then extract the pulp. If the procedure is being done on a molar, there will be multiple canals due to it being a bigger tooth. An incisor would typically only have a single canal from which to remove the pulp.
With the canal cleared out, the dentist will then inject a rubbery filling into the canals as mentioned above, which protects the tooth from future infection. Then a temporary filling will be placed over the root canals which will quickly set and serve as a chewing surface until the crown or filling is put on a couple of weeks afterward. The whole process will take anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on the tooth and number of canals.
Recovery from the procedure:
Most patients will stay numb for 2-4 hours after the procedure. Your dentist may advise you to take ibuprofen before the numbing wears off so that the soreness does not become too bothersome. While the nerve from the inside of the tooth has been removed, the nerves on the outside of the tooth remain; this keeps the tooth alive. This is the reason you will experience some soreness for several days afterwards and probably want to avoid chewing directly on the tooth during this time. You will also likely be advised to refrain from eating anything hard; if you accidentally bit down on something hard, the tooth in question could actually crack since it hasn't been permanently repaired yet.