Don’t let the term “root canal” make you shudder. The root canal procedure has earned an unfair reputation for being painful and unpleasant, but the truth is that it’s a relatively simple and standard procedure with the power to save your natural tooth!

It’s important to identify the signs of dental problems that might require a root canal. The earlier you catch an issue, the easier it is to resolve.

What Is a Root Canal?

We commonly call root canal therapy “a root canal”, but a root canal is actually a part of the tooth itself. It’s the hollow section of each tooth that holds nerves, blood vessels, and pulp cells.

The nerve tissues are responsible for creating hot and cold sensations, blood vessels transport oxygen and nutrients, and the pulp nourishes and moisturizes its surroundings. If the soft pulp tissue becomes inflamed or infected as a result of decay or trauma, it can threaten the integrity of the entire tooth. Root canal therapy is designed to remove the infected pulp in order to stop the spread of infection and give the impacted tooth a higher chance of survival.

Most people assume it’s painful due to the invasive nature of the root canal process, but in reality a root canal is one of the most effective ways to relieve chronic tooth pain! Since a root canal generally costs less than a tooth extraction or replacement, it’s one of the first strategies dentists use to save a traumatized or decaying tooth.

What is the Root Canal Procedure?

When you undergo a root canal, your dentist performs three steps to save your tooth from additional damage.

1. Clean the Root Canal Space
After your dentist has taken x-rays of your tooth and administered a local anesthetic to numb the pain, he will isolate the tooth in need of a root canal to keep in clean and protected from saliva. You won’t feel anything as your dentist makes a small opening in the crown of your tooth to clean and remove the dead or diseased pulp tissue inside.

Growing teeth rely on the pulp tissue, but fully developed teeth can survive without any pulp since they’re nourished by other surrounding tissues.

2. Fill the Root Canal With Gutta Percha
Once all signs of infected pulp are gone, your dentist will replace the pulp tissue with a biocompatible material like gutta percha. This rubber-like material safely fills the empty space in the root canal area.

3. Strengthen the Tooth With a Crown or Filling
Adhesive cement firmly seals the root canal closed after the gutta percha is situated. At this point, your tooth is actually dead. The infection has been removed, any painful nerve tissue has been eliminated, and your tooth can no longer sense pain.

Since a dead tooth doesn’t have pulp to provide nourishment and moisture, it relies on surrounding tissues and ligaments instead. This system isn’t as effective as the original pulp itself, which is why any tooth that undergoes a root canal becomes more brittle over time.

Your dentist will use a filling or crown to bolster the strength of the tooth and prevent future damage.

4 Signs You Need a Root Canal

Now you know all about a root canal, but how can you determine if it’s the best procedure to address your dental issues? If you experience any of the following four signs, you probably need a root canal!

1. Excessive Sensitivity to Hot or Cold Temperatures
It’s not unusual to feel a tinge of discomfort when you bite into an ice cream cone, but excessive sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures may indicate a more serious problem. If you experience those painful “zings” of sensitivity on a regular basis, and some last more than 30 seconds, it’s likely that your tooth has nerve damage. If other minor treatments can’t effectively reduce your sensitivity, a root canal may become necessary.

2. Significant Discoloration of the Tooth
Healthy teeth are protected by white enamel. If your white tooth starts showing significant discoloration compared to surrounding teeth, it may be entering the final stages of decay. A grey or black tooth has to be saved quickly using a root canal to preserve what remains and prevent full extraction.

3. Severe Tooth and Jaw Pain, Especially When Chewing
A damaged tooth doesn’t just impact your smile. It also triggers serious pain when you apply pressure to your jaw and gums. If you are suffering from ongoing headaches, ear pain, jaw discomfort, and tooth pain, a severe dental issue like an infection is most likely the root cause. A root canal is the only procedure that can fully remove the infected tissue to eliminate the source of pain and prevent future tooth death.

4. Swelling and Tenderness in Surrounding Gums
Inflammation is one of the most common indicators of dental problems, including an infection within the tooth that may require a root canal. You can identify inflammation of the gums by common symptoms like pain, swelling, and a raised bump in the painful area.

Root Canal FAQs

You may have other questions about the root canal procedure. The answers to these frequently asked questions will help you understand exactly what to expect.

Will My Root Canal Hurt?
Thanks to local anesthesia, you won’t feel any pain at all during your root canal! In fact, it won’t feel any different than getting a basic filling. Though you may feel some soreness or discomfort after the procedure, your dentist will recommend a simple over-the-counter pain reliever to help you feel better. More than anything, you’ll notice how much better you feel without the intense pain your infected, damaged tooth was causing!

How Long Does Root Canal Recovery Take?
The local numbness created by the anesthesia will fade away over two to four hours. If you feel up to it, you can return to work or school shortly after your procedure! Just be sure you don’t eat until the numbness is completely gone. All signs of minor discomfort or swelling should disappear in a few short days.

Are There Other Benefits of a Root Canal?
Endodontic treatment can save a tooth that would otherwise die! Inflammation, infection, and decay are difficult problems to heal, especially when the trauma to your tooth runs deep into the pulp and nerves. A root canal removes dangerous inflammation, prevents the development of abscesses, and keeps your tooth firmly in place. With proper care, any tooth that undergoes a root canal treatment can last the rest of your life!

A root canal is always best performed by a dentist you trust. Mr. Yaron Miller, DDS, BDS, has been practicing dentistry in Vista for more than 20 years. He offers root canal therapy and many other essential dental treatments to all of his patients at Vista Dental Care and Specialty Center in the greater San Diego area. Call (760) 630-5000 today to schedule your appointment and let Dr. Miller save your smile.