What Happens During a Root Canal? Your Guide to This Common Procedure

What Happens During a Root Canal? Your Guide to This Common Procedure

Ahh, the dreaded root canal: the collective population’s worst nightmare. Or is it? When you don’t know what to expect, the unexpected imaginings of incredible pain can be worse than the actual procedure. But when you prepare yourself ahead of time, it may not be quite as difficult as you would think.

Forewarned is forearmed and with this guide to what happens during a root canal, you can be ready to get the common procedure over with as seamlessly as possible and get on the road to recovery.

What Exactly is a Root Canal?

When you have a tooth that has decayed so badly that it’s beyond repair from a filling or a cap, or your tooth becomes severely infected, you may need a root canal.

The term “root canal” is based on the name for the cavity that is already in the center of your tooth. Getting a root canal is when you have a treatment performed in which the nerve to your tooth and the pulp around it are removed, leaving the inside of your tooth open to being fixed up and sealed shut.

Removing the nerve to your tooth is not considered major surgery since the nerve it not an integral part of your tooth’s functioning or long-term health. The only thing your nerves in your teeth do is tell you when something is hot or cold, and when your nerve is exposed as it is in a decayed tooth, that sensation is something many people are perfectly willing to give up.

Removing the pulp in the tooth is the next part. This is important because when it is damaged, it provides an open invitation for bacteria to congregate and multiple, leading to infections and abscesses.

It may sound like something you’re not interested in, but the alternative may be worse. Without treatment for an infection or decayed tooth, you are leaving yourself open to harmful and potentially deadly infection in the surrounding tissues and painful abscesses may begin to form.

Infections and abscesses are not anything you want to have to go on in your mouth. They can lead to swelling that spreads to other parts of your head, bone loss in your tooth, and a lot of pain. It can also create drainage openings that spread the infection to your jaw, neck, or even your brain. This can turn into sepsis, an infection that spreads through your body quickly and becomes deadly.

However, prevention is key in dental care, and knowing your teeth can help you recognize some of the signs you need a root canal.

Signs a Root Canal May Be in Your Future

Root canal signs aren’t always obvious, and sometimes they are not visible at all until the pain shows up. But if you notice any of these common signs and symptoms, you should present to your dentist as soon as possible.

  • Severe tooth pain with no obvious cause
  • Pain in your tooth when you apply pressure, such as when you are chewing
  • Increased sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • The ongoing feeling of sensitivity after a hot or cold object has been removed
  • Swelling in the gums around the sensitive tooth
  • A recurrent pimple that shows up on your gums over and over, or just doesn’t go away
  • Discoloration of the problem tooth.

Catching these signs early may help you avoid a root canal altogether, or at least get you in the procedure room before the symptoms get worse.

Preparing for a Root Canal

Preparing for a root canal is different for each dentist, but in general, there are a few things you can expect to do before your procedure.

  1. Discuss pain medication options with your dentist before your procedure visit. Know ahead of time if you will need to be picking up a prescription for pain meds and if you will need someone to drive you home from the procedure (usually recommended).
  2. Take your vitamins for weeks beforehand. It’s vital that you not be sick during your root canal. Your body is going to need the extra strength to recover and if your immune system is down, you’re more prone to infections afterward.
  3. Know what’s going to happen after the root canal before the procedure. Chances are you aren’t going to be in any condition to want to listen to your recovery instructions after your surgery. Plan ahead and know what to expect and prepare for before the day of the procedure.
  4. Pick up your antibiotics before your root canal. Most dentists prescribe preventative antibiotics with a root canal to kill the bacteria before they can infect the opening. Be sure you have these ready to start taking as prescribed before your procedure.

What to Expect During Your Procedure

The steps for a root canal are consistent and the procedure is common. You will have to have multiple visits for the full treatment once it’s scheduled, but during your procedure, you can expect the following to occur:

  • First, you’ll have an x-ray taken to check for infection in the surrounding areas.
  • General anesthesia may be used to numb the area.
  • The dentist will place rubber around your tooth to keep it dry during the procedure.
  • He or she will drill an access hole into your tooth to remove the pulp and other debris.
  • Your tooth will be cleaned out via root canal files. These files come in increasing sizes and are used in succession to scrape the sides of the canals, cleaning out the debris.
  • Either water or sodium hypochlorite will be used to clear out the debris from your mouth as needed.
  • After it’s cleaned, you can go home, but you’ll need to return to have it sealed if your dentist decides not to seal it that day. If that’s the case, they will put a temporary filling in the new exterior hole to keep anything from getting in there until you have it sealed.
  • Finally, on your last appointment, a paste and compound will be used to seal the root canal completely and a filling will complete the process.

Your Guide to Your Root Canal

Knowing what to expect can take some of the fear out of your root canal and help you to prepare physically and mentally. Root canals are common procedures that are performed every day around the world, so with a little preparation on your part and a knowledgeable dentist, you can have your treatment and be moving on with a healthy tooth in no time.

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