When people hear someone talk about a “root canal,” the first thing that comes to mind is usually “pain.” But the fact is, root canals are no more painful than most other dental treatments, and they’re actually performed to relieve pain. You’re completely numb during the treatment, so you don’t feel a thing, and once the dentist is done, your tooth will be absolutely pain-free.
At the dental office of Dr. Raul Molina in Miami, Florida, we’re experts in performing nonsurgical root canals for a variety of tooth problems, and we understand your fear of the procedure. But since your oral health is of the utmost importance to us, we’ll do everything we can to make your procedure as anxiety- and pain-free as possible. Here are the facts about root canals and the teeth they’re designed to save.
Your teeth are greater than just what meets the eye. What you see is just the part that sits above the gum line — the crown portion covered by a hard enamel shell to protect it. Below the gum line lies the tooth root, covered by another material called cementum. But what’s important in a root canal is what lies underneath the hard coverings.
Beneath the enamel is the pulp chamber, a softer area that contains connective tissue, blood vessels, and the highly sensitive nerve. The nerve runs inside the root, the part of the tooth that anchors the entire structure in the jaw bone. Depending on which tooth you’re looking at, there can be anywhere from one to three canals. Each of the canals extends from the root tip in the bone up into the pulp chamber above the gum.
The pulp is usually well protected by the enamel coating, but it can become irritated, inflamed, or infected because of cracks or chips that allow bacteria to enter the chamber and cause decay, large fillings that compromise tooth structure, multiple dental procedures on that tooth, or facial trauma.
When damaged, the pulp breaks down, and bacteria multiply. Along with dying tissue, they can cause an abscess, an infected, pus-filled pocket located at the end of the root that may cause:
- Swelling, which can spread
- Bone loss at the root tip
- A hole in the side of the tooth
- Drainage problems, affecting the gums, cheek, and/or facial skin
When the tooth first develops, the nerve plays an important role in its growth and function. However, once the tooth erupts through the gums, its only function is to provide sensations of hot and cold in the mouth. That means removing the nerve during a root canal won’t impair the tooth’s function. However, the tooth does become weaker and more prone to chips and fractures. That’s why most dentists place a dental crown on top of the affected tooth to provide additional support.
The root canal process
Though most people associate the term root canal with pain, the pain occurs before the procedure, from badly decayed or infected teeth with a nerve that’s either dead or dying. For the root canal procedure, which removes both the tooth’s pulp and the nerve, we numb you up with a local anesthetic to keep you comfortable. Dr. Molina also makes nitrous oxide (laughing gas) available for patients who require additional sedation, often for dental anxiety.
Since the dentist has to clear the canals in the tooth’s root, the procedure to remove the pulp is also called a root canal. Once you’re numb, Dr. Molina first drills a hole in the top of the tooth to allow him to access the pulp chamber.
Next, he removes the infected pulp, as well as the nerve, and flushes out all the canals with a medicated solution to remove any remaining infection or debris. After that, he fills the canals and pulp chamber with a biocompatible material to prevent any further infection and save the tooth structure. Once that heals, you can go to your restorative dentist, who determines the best option to preserve the remaining tooth.
Although your tooth may be sore for a couple of days following a root canal, it’s nothing like the pain that brought you into the office in the first place. And since root canal procedures have a greater than 95% success rate, with many repaired teeth able to last you a lifetime, you don’t have to fear that kind of pain ever again, as long as you practice good oral hygiene.
If you have a tooth that’s causing you pain, a root canal may be the right procedure to get you pain-free. To learn more about the process and how it can benefit your oral health, give Dr. Molina’s office a call at (305) 614-0211, or schedule a consultation online. You have nothing to fear and a healthy mouth to gain.