Root canals need a new publicist. Of all the procedures in dentistry, the root canal is probably the most misunderstood. People equate having a root canal to signing up for medieval torture. They see images of Marathon Man, where Dustin Hoffman has his teeth drilled without anesthesia by a crazed Nazi dentist and think that is just like a root canal. The perception is that root canals are very painful, difficult procedures.
In actuality, a root canal with Dr. Steier isn’t any more painful than having a cavity filled. The alternative, having an infected tooth extracted, is actually more involved and painful…and costly as time goes on.
What is a root canal?
First a little tooth anatomy 101. A tooth is made up of the outer enamel layer that covers the entire crown (the area of the tooth above the gumline); beneath the enamel is another hard layer called the dentin. Inside of the dentin is the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the roots. Where these roots run are called the root canals.
Sometimes the pulp becomes inflamed or infected. Deep decay, large tooth fillings, a crack or chip in the tooth, repeated dental procedures, or trauma can cause this. When the pulp becomes infected, it must be removed and the tooth cleaned and filled. This procedure is known as a root canal.
When does a tooth need a root canal?
This is where the association with pain comes in. Once infection invades the pulp of the tooth, you’re going to have some serious pain. The tooth will become extremely sensitive to hot and cold. It will be tender when chewing or when you touch it. There may be swelling of the gum tissue surrounding the tooth. This can become really painful.
At other times, if the decay has newly invaded the tooth, the patient may not yet have symptoms. But the infection will show up on x-rays during your routine cleanings and checkups with Dr. Steier.
How is a root canal done?
The goal is to save the tooth from extraction. To do this, the interior of the tooth needs to be rid of all the infected stuff in the pulp. First, Dr. Steier drills a small hole in the crown of the tooth. Through the hole she uses very small files to clean out the entire pulp cavity and root canals, removing the pulp, the decayed nerve tissues, and any other debris. The tooth cavity is then flushed with water and sodium hypochlorite to remove any remaining debris and to be sure no traces of infected pulp remain.
Next the clean, but now empty, pulp chamber and root canals are filled with a rubber-based material called gutta-percha and sealed with an adhesive cement. The exterior hole is then closed with a dental filling. Sometimes, this is sufficient and the procedure is finished. More likely, however, the tooth will require a crown to protect the tooth and restore function. If a crown is required, we take impressions of the tooth and send them off to a dental lab to fabricate the crown. When it is finished, you return and we place the crown permanently.
And now your tooth can live happily ever after. You may think that since it doesn’t have the blood vessels and nerves and such that it’s a goner. But that stuff is only needed when a tooth is developing during childhood. In many cases, a tooth that has had a root canal can stay in place the rest of the patient’s life.
See? Now that didn’t hurt a bit. Do you have a tooth that has become very sensitive? It could be infected. Call Dr. Steier at (561) 395-3190 to make an appointment.