Root canals often invoke fear and anxiety in many dental patients. However, understanding the necessity, methods of prevention, and what to expect during the procedure can significantly demystify root canals and alleviate some of the fear associated with this standard dental treatment. You don’t need to dread your upcoming root canal. Read on to understand why they may be necessary and how the process works, and you’ll be at ease before you go in for treatment.
What Makes Root Canals Necessary?
The central part of a tooth is made of soft tissue called the pulp, a vital part of the tooth during its growth and development. However, once the tooth is fully mature, it can survive without the pulp because the tooth continues to be nourished by the surrounding tissues.
A root canal becomes necessary when the pulp becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have various causes: deep decay due to untreated cavities, multiple dental procedures on the same tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. Additionally, a traumatic injury to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess. The need to remove that via a root canal may be the only option left besides a tooth extraction.
Avoiding the Need for a Root Canal
Prevention should always be the first consideration, and several strategies exist to avoid the need for a root canal. Most are up to you, so let’s see where you stand.
- Oral Hygiene: Maintain a routine of brushing at least twice daily and flossing daily to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Using a fluoride toothpaste will help protect teeth better than non-fluoridated.
- Regular Dental Visits: Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings. These visits can help diagnose cavities or tooth damage before it reaches the pulp. Typically, two times a year, some insurances allow up to 4, so be sure you’re taking advantage.
- Preventive Treatments: Consider dental sealants and fluoride treatments, especially for children, as a preventative measure against cavities.
- Protecting Your Teeth: Use a mouthguard for sports or recreational activities. Avoid chewing ice, popcorn kernels, and hard candy, all of which can crack a tooth. If you have a history of grinding your teeth while you sleep, start using a night dental guard to protect your teeth while you sleep.
These pieces start at home. If you’re neglecting your oral hygiene, there could be consequences. Luckily, you can start making changes now that will have a positive impact down the road.
The Root Canal Process
Understanding the process can help reduce anxiety and prepare patients for what to expect.
- X-Ray and Anesthesia: If a root canal is suspected, the dentist will start by taking X-rays to assess the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs of infection. The dentist will then use local anesthesia to numb the area near the tooth so they can start to remove the dead tissue without pain to the patient.
- Pulpectomy (Accessing the Infected Tooth): The dentist will place a rubber dam around the tooth to keep it dry. An opening is then made through the tooth’s crown to access the pulp chamber.
- Cleaning and Shaping the Root Canals: Using special tools removes the diseased pulp. The canals are cleaned, enlarged, and shaped into a form that can be filled. The dentist may place medicine into the area to clear any bacteria.
- Filling the Canals: Once the canals are cleaned and dried, they’re filled with a rubber-like gutta-percha material. The gutta-percha is placed with an adhesive cement to ensure complete sealing of the root canals.
- Restoration of the Tooth: A temporary filling material is placed on top of the gutta-percha. This is to seal the opening until the tooth is restored permanently by your dentist. You will need another crown or restoration appointment to protect and restore the tooth to full function.
- After Care: Teeth under root canal therapy should be cared for like any other tooth. Continue to brush and floss regularly, avoid chewing hard foods with the treated tooth, and see your dentist regularly.
A root canal is a highly successful treatment in saving the tooth and alleviating pain. Understanding the reasons behind the procedure, methods for prevention, and the steps involved can make the process much less daunting and promote better oral health decisions.
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