Common medical questions and answers through blogs and articles

What Is a Root Canal?

You’ve heard it likened to just about any painful process that life has to offer. How many of us have uttered these words when faced with a difficult situation, “I’d rather have a root canal!” So just how painful is a root canal? Statistics show that most folks don’t experience much pain at all. In fact, the American Association of Endodontists recently conducted a survey, in which it was learned that root canals generally are only feared by those who haven’t had them. The survey showed that folks who had a root canal performed were actually 3 times more likely to say they didn’t fear another root canal over those who’d never had it done. What’s to be gleaned from this survey? That root canals aren’t nearly as bad as you think. Following is information from a good dentists about what a root canal is and what to expect during the procedure, as well as a checklist of actions you can take following your root canal to recover and speed up healing.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a dental procedure used to repair a tooth that is decayed and/or is infected. This procedure is used to save a tooth. A root canal surgery removes the pulp and nerve of a tooth, following which the inside of the tooth is cleaned and properly sealed. The nerves in teeth aren’t vital to a tooth’s health. Nor are they vital to its function, as nerves really only provide sensation of cold and hot.  Root canals are performed every day in this country in order to save teeth and surrounding tissue and structures. Without root canals, many patients would have to have teeth removed because abscesses form.

What happens during the procedure?

During a root canal, your family dentist, oral surgeon, or endodontist drills a hole into the tooth that needs treatment to get to its inner chamber where the infection lies. The great thing about a root canal is that, when infected pulp is removed, pain generally is relieved. This part of the procedure also helps to clear any infection that’s present. Next, debris will be cleaned in order to properly treat the affected tooth. Oftentimes, root canals can be performed in one visit to the dental office. However, most often a root canal can take from two to three weeks and more than one dental appointment to perform a thorough root canal. In the first visit, the pulp or nerve tissue will be removed, and the cleaning of a tooth’s inner chamber is performed. During this visit typically is when a temporary filling will be added. On your second appointment is when the temporary filling will be removed, and the tooth will be sealed. If a third visit is necessary, this is when the tooth may be treated with a porcelain or metal crown.

What should I do during my recovery period?

There are a number of steps you can take during your root canal recovery period, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious. If you’re recovering from a root canal, or you’re looking at an upcoming procedure, read over this checklist in order to prepare yourself beforehand. Of course, following recommendations of your family dentist or oral surgeon is always the first course of recovery.

  • Immediately following your procedure, place a gauze pad over the area of your root canal. Continue replenishing with new gauze pads until the bleeding stops.
  • If bleeding persists for more than a few hours post surgery, contact the dentist who performed your root canal as a precaution.
  • Avoid rinsing your mouth for the first day following your root canal. After that initial period, rinse your mouth with saltwater 3 to 5 times daily for about 3 to 5 days. Salt is a natural foe of bacteria, and rinsing with salt water is a great way to ward off infection.
  • Avoid all alcohol and tobacco products for at least the first 2 weeks following your root canal.
  • Eat a soft diet that abstains from foods that are too hot or too cold. Avoid chewy or crunchy foods during your recovery.
  • Use ice packs over the area of the procedure for 30 minutes when you first get home post surgery. This will help to minimize swelling and hasten the recovery process. From there, apply ice packs as much as every hour for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
  • Take prescribed pain medication to ease any discomfort you feel from your root canal. Recommended pain medications typically are ibuprofen or Tylenol. Your family dentist may also prescribe antibiotics.

See … that wasn’t so bad, was it? The fact is that, like so many things in life, the bark of a root canal is often much worse than its bite. The root canal procedure isn’t something to be feared and shied away from. In fact, the whole point of a root canal is to take your pain and infection away. The thing to be feared when it comes to a root canal is avoiding the situation. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of an infected tooth, contact a family dentist in your area to schedule a consultation.

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