By: Dr. David Schlussel, DDS
Let’s get to the root of the matter. Little strikes more fear into the heart of a patient than the thought of having a root canal treatment. The effort and thought put into trying to get out of having the treatment never ceases to amaze me. “Do I really need to have it done?” “Isn’t it easier to take the tooth out?” “The tooth isn’t bothering me right now; can’t we just leave it alone?” “Why do I need to have it done?”
The truth is, these are all valid questions, even if they might be driven by fear. To answer these questions, we must first understand what a root canal treatment (RCT) is, why it’s needed, and what the goals are of the treatment.
The goals of root canal treatment
I always tell my patients, “root canal treatment is your friend.” Why? Because this treatment can save your tooth, help prevent an extraction, and prevent replacement of a tooth. Once an RCT is required, there is no turning back and the only other option is to extract the tooth. Now I know none of my patients want that.
Why do teeth need a root canal treatment?
A little understanding of dental anatomy is required before I answer this question. When you smile, the white teeth that you see are attached to one or multiple roots that go below the gums and into the bone. These roots act as an anchor to hold your teeth in your bone. Those roots are like little pipes that have “canals” in them and they house the nerves and blood vessels that come from the bone. When the nerve is irreversibly damaged, the dying nerve can lead to pain and infection. This damage may come from a very deep, bacteria-infected cavity. The bacteria could infiltrate the root and thus damage the nerve. The damage can also come from a crack in the tooth, or the tooth may have had a lot of work done to it, such as multiple fillings. Because the root is a hard structure, once the nerve is injured, there is no room for it to heal. Once the nerve is dead or dying, then a root canal is required.
So, what actually is an RCT?
To rid the tooth of the dying nerve and any bacteria that might have infiltrated the canal, special instruments are inserted into the canal to clean the roots. Antibacterial irrigants are used to disinfect the canal and a sealer is placed in the canal to seal off any bacteria from re-infecting the canal. Sounds simple, right? For the patient, it is. Local anesthesia is administered with a painless injection. Yes, I said painless. All the patient needs to do is to keep his mouth open and most RCTs can be performed in an hour and a half or less. There is no pain during the procedure and in almost all RCTs there is almost no pain afterwards either.
Today’s root canal treatment is light years ahead of what our parents had to endure. Today we have electronic measuring devices that measure the length of the canal more accurately than x-rays ever did in the past. We have instruments that draw the infected material in the canal up and out of the tooth instead of pushing it into the bone. These instruments allow us to work faster and more safely and at the same time reduce the time in the chair for the patient. We also have newer irrigating tips that prevent pushing irrigants out of the roots and into the bone. These improvements and others make the treatment safer and more comfortable for the patient, which leads to greater comfort after the treatment.
So now that you are well-informed about root canal treatment—and please don’t read about it online, the internet is full of misinformation that prevents people from receiving proper treatment—I know that, should you need one, you will be looking forward to having your next root canal treatment. If you have any questions or would like to book a consultation or an appointment for treatment please contact our offices.
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