For years, the term “root canal” has been associated with an unpleasant or painful experience at the dentist. While this may have been true in the past, modern dentistry has allowed advances that promote a pain-free experience, even during a root canal. Continue reading on more information of what a root canal is, as well as why dentists recommend them to their patients.
A root canal is essentially a filling of the root to ensure the integrity of the tooth from the inside. When the decay of a tooth, otherwise known as a cavity, reaches the root of the tooth, the cavity can not simply be filled with a simple composite filling. When the decay reaches the root, it causes extreme pain for the patient as well, as the root of the tooth is where the nerve resides. An exposed nerve causes what is commonly referred to as a “hot tooth”. Dentists recommend a root canal in this instance in order to preserve the life of the tooth, as well as to expel their patients’ pain.
There are multiple steps in the process of a root canal:
- An x-ray is taken of the tooth so that the tooth as well as its entire root is visible to the dentist.
- The patient is numbed up using local anesthetics to assure there will be no pain or discomfort during the procedure.
- A hole is drilled in the top of the tooth down into the canal. The nerve is removed from the tooth. Now the procedure can go one of two ways, depending on the doctor’s preference:
- An x-ray is taken with the drill in the tooth so that the doctor can see if they have reached the very tip of the root, otherwise known as the “apex”.
- Using a device called the “apex locator”, the dentist is able to see when they have reached the apex as they are working in the tooth.
- When the apex is located, the dentist begins the process of cleaning out the canal.
- Irrigation fluids are flushed into the cavity repeatedly to ensure the that canal is clean and sterile.
- Small paper points are used to dry the cavity so that the dentist can begin filling the tooth.
- The dentist places small paper points known as “gutta percha” into the tooth. At this point some dentists may prefer to take an x-ray to ensure that the gutta percha reaches the apex.
- If the gutta percha reach the apex, they are cemented into the canal to fill it. A dental instrument is heated with a hand-held torch, and is then used to burn off the superfluous ends of the gutta percha, which are removed from the mouth and discarded.
- A clay-like substance known as “cavit” is packed into the tooth to fill the remainder of the space. The cavit is then pressed in and wiped with a wet q-tip or cotton roll.
- The root canal is now complete. A final x-ray is taken to ensure that the entire canal has been filled.
In most cases, a root canal is done prior to placing a crown on the tooth. This is to ensure the life of a tooth that had very extensive decay. In some cases, a root canal is done on a tooth, and is left with no crown over the natural tooth. Every case is dependent on both the patient and the dentist’s recommendations.