What You Need to Know About Root Canals

By: Erica Anand, DDS-PC
November 19, 2020

woman in dental chair learning about root canals

The “dreaded” root canal is now a simple procedure, thanks to advanced technology and materials. When it comes to a root canal, people tend to frown at the idea of it; however, a root canal is a wonderful and necessary remedy to help salvage a tooth. In fact, a root canal is usually no more painful or challenging than a traditional tooth filling.

Why Root Canals Are Indicated

Some of the most common issues requiring a root canal include:

1. Dental Caries

When caught early, a cavity can often be treated with a small dental filling. However, if you let the decay becomes more severe, it can often cause caries to enter the pulp, causing the pulp to become infected with bacteria.

2. Dental Trauma

Blunt trauma can cause a tooth to become dead (necrotic) and discolored.

3. Repeated Dental Treatment

When a filling frequently needs replacement, it causes the pulp to get inflamed or infected.

4. Fractures

If a tooth fractures from biting into hard food, and the fracture extends into the pulp, the tooth could need a root canal.

Signs You May Need a Root Canal

Common signs you may need a root canal include:

• Severe, persistent pain while eating or sleeping.
• A dental abscess on the gum below the infected tooth.
• Swelling.
• Temperature sensitivity to heat and cold foods and drinks.
• Cracked or fractured tooth.
• Gum sensitivity.
• Tooth discoloration (black or gray).

The Root Canal Process

A root canal involves removing the pulp of the tooth, which is made up of nerves, blood vessels, and tissue. You will require an X-ray to confirm decay is in the pulp. The pulp chamber and canals are then cleaned, disinfected, and filled to prevent bacteria from entering. The dentist may also put a temporary filling to avoid contamination by saliva, food, and plaque. You may be prescribed an oral antibiotic. Often, you will need a crown in a separate procedure to complete the treatment and preserve the tooth.

It is common to experience some swelling and soreness once the local anesthesia wears off. You can take over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen as needed. You should avoid chewing while numb to avoid biting your cheek, lip, or tongue, and skip biting into hard foods and ice to reduce further injury to the tooth. You will have to follow up with your regular dentist for a permanent crown or filling to help support the tooth.

Alternative Treatment to a Root Canal

If you decide you don’t want a root canal, other treatment options include a tooth extraction. You can then replace the extracted tooth with an implant, bridge, or removable partial appliance to restore function and prevent teeth-shifting.

Preventing a Root Canal

To keep your teeth and gums healthy, you should maintain good oral hygiene habits such as daily brushing and flossing. You should limit the frequency of sugar in your diet to reduce your chances of developing tooth decay. If you play sports, wear a mouthguard to prevent dental trauma. If your dental treatment plans include smaller fillings, having the procedure done quickly can limit the potential of having the cavities get deeper and possibly requiring a root canal.

Costs of a Root Canal

Costs vary depending on which tooth needs treatment, your dental insurance, and if you are seeing a general dentist or an endodontist (a specialist in root canal treatment). Molars are often more expensive and more difficult to treat than anterior teeth. Most dental plans will cover a portion of a root canal. Generally, you can expect to pay up to $2,000 for root canal therapy.

Dr. Erica Anand is a pediatric dentist in private practice focused on preventative dentistry including SDF, SMART fillings, and myofunctional therapy. She also writes professionally in the dental industry, working with marketing and consulting firms.

Her extensive education includes treating children with special needs, dental phobias, and oral rehabilitation under general anesthesia. She maintains memberships of the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and New York State Dental Association, and is an American Board of Pediatric Dentistry Candidate.  Learn more about Dr. Erica Anand on her website.

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