December 22, 2023

What is a Root Canal and When is it Needed?

Navigating the world of dental health can be a daunting journey, often filled with terms and procedures that demand understanding and preparation. One such procedure that seems to carry more fear and misconceptions than most is the infamous root canal, a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected. At Pearl Street Dental, we want to shed light on this deeply misunderstood procedure and provide vital information about what a root canal is, why it becomes necessary, and what you can expect from the process. Whether you're preparing for your first root canal or are looking for a dentist in Boulder that you can trust, we want to provide you with the insights you need to approach your next dentist appointment with confidence.

What is a Root Canal? 

A root canal, also medically termed as an endodontic treatment, is a dental procedure administered to save a tooth that is badly decayed, damaged, or infected. The phrase "root canal" originates from the process of cleaning the canals inside the tooth's root. Despite its reputation for being excruciating, with the advancements in dental technology and local anesthetics, a root canal nowadays is as comfortable as having a routine filling. Performed by a general dentist or a specialized endodontist, the procedure primarily aims to eliminate bacteria from the infected root canal, avert the reinfection of the tooth, and thereby, save the natural tooth. When a person undergoes a root canal, the inflamed or infected pulp is scraped out, and the insides of the tooth are carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed. The following is a closer look at each step of the procedure. 

Step 1: Dental X-rays will be taken to scope out the degree of damage to the dental pulp. The X-rays also let your dentist see the exact shape of your tooth’s root canals and allow them to see the location of the infection and whether or not there is significant damage incurred to the surrounding bone.

Step 2: A local anesthetic will be applied to the area surrounding the tooth, numbing the area to prevent you from feeling any pain throughout the root canal process. In many cases, the nerve will be dead and won’t actually require an anesthetic, but the dentist will still provide you with a local anesthetic to make you more relaxed and to avoid the chance of any pain.

Step 3: In order to ensure the area around the tooth stays completely dry, your dentist will place a rubber sheet called a dental dam or rubber dam around the tooth. This keeps the tooth clean and saliva-free.

Step 4: The main part of the procedure will begin with your dentist creating an opening into your tooth. A hole is made into the crown of your tooth, which will provide an access point to the tooth’s interior. This process is totally painless. Once the hole is made, your dentist will remove the decayed pulp from your tooth’s root. This process is performed by a series of root canal files that enter through the hole and scrub the sides of the canal. Any excess debris or bacteria in the tooth will also be removed.

Step 5: If there was an infection in your tooth, the dentist will medicate the opening before having it sealed off. Next, he will replace the removed dental pulp with a rubber-like material and then apply a temporary filling, sealing off the hole.

Step 6: Many teeth needing root canals will have experienced significant damage so oftentimes a final step is needed to restore the tooth. Typically, the crown of your tooth will be replaced with an artificial crown that matches the exact color and shade of your teeth. This crown will protect the tooth from additional damage or infection.

When is a Root Canal Needed? 

A root canal is necessary when the tooth's pulp, a mass of blood vessels and nerve tissue inside the tooth, becomes inflamed or infected. Pulp inflammation or infection can arise due to several reasons, including severe decay, repeated dental procedures on the same tooth, cracked tooth, or trauma to the tooth. Some of the signs that you might need a root canal include:

  • Intense toothache, especially while chewing or applying pressure on the tooth.

  • Prolonged sensitivity or pain in response to hot or cold temperatures.

  • Dark discoloration of the tooth.

  • Swelling and tenderness in nearby gums.

It's important to see your dentist if you develop a toothache or any other type of pain. If your tooth is infected, the pulp cannot heal by itself, and leaving the infected tooth in your mouth can lead to even more damage and pain.

However, sometimes there might be no symptoms present. That’s why regular dental check-ups are crucial. Your dentist can identify the signs of disease or decay and can advise whether a root canal is needed.

The Bottom Line

A root canal is a standard procedure performed to save an ailing or dead tooth. It eliminates bacterial infection, providing pain relief, and preventing further complications. If you encounter prolonged dental pain or discomfort, seek immediate consultation from your dentist. Remember, early detection and intervention can prevent the need for more complex treatments and ensure the health and longevity of your teeth.If you or someone you know needs help with an infected tooth and is looking for a dentist in Boulder, don’t hesitate to contact Pearl Street Dental