A root canal is a procedure that is used to treat a tooth that is so badly damaged that there is no other dental procedure that can be used to restore it.
Root canals are one of the most common dental problems that dental professionals have to deal with today. Cavities are the most common cause of root canals, and they can occur for several reasons. The most common is a sugar-laden diet. When you eat sugar too often without taking care of your teeth the bacteria in the mouth feat on the layers of teeth one by one until they get to the pulp, which is the inner-most part of the tooth. Once this is damaged a root canal has to be performed in order to save the tooth. The other causes of root canals include cracks on the tooth, trauma to the tooth or repeated dental procedures that wear away the enamel leaving the inner part of the tooth exposed.
What are the benefits of root canals?
There are two primary benefits of having a root canal done. The first is that you are able to save the tooth. Without this treatment the tooth would eventually rot and fall off leaving a gap. Gaps like these are expensive to fill and if left unfilled they have many negative effects. They affect the surrounding teeth causing them to lea in the gap, they affect speech, eating and even the overall shape of the face. The other benefit of having a timely root canal is that it stops infection from developing and spreading. Damage to the pulp leaves nerve endings exposed and because there are bacteria in the pocket it can multiply and lead to a bacterial infection that starts in the gum and eventually can spread to the jaw. Left untreated these infections have been known to spread to the brain and can even cause death.
There is a third little considered benefit and that is fresh breath. When you have cavities bacteria are feeding on them all the time, and the by-product of their frenzied feeding is bad breath. It doesn’t matter if you brush your teeth 3 times a day as prescribed, rinse with mouthwash and even floss. Soon after, your breath will turn sour and this can even develop into halitosis which is a much more serious dental condition.
It is very important to have regular dental checkups so that your dentist can check whether or not you have cavities. If they are still in the early stages of development he may suggest alternative forms of treatment but if they are in the advanced stages he will schedule you for a root canal right away.
How to prepare for a root canal
In the past root canals were painful procedures because we hadn’t many too many advances in the world of anesthesiology. Today, however, many people will tell you that all they experienced was mild discomfort and maybe a little pain which they were able to treat with the most basic painkillers. You should not worry too much about your root canal procedure. So long as you choose a competent, well equipped dentist you should be fine.
If you have more than one tooth that needs a root canal it is quite likely that the dentist to work on them one after the other rather than working on them simultaneously. To prepare you for your procedure your dentist will take x-rays in order to determine the extent of the damage to your tooth. Once they can see how badly damaged your tooth is they can begin.
How a root canal is done
They will use local anesthetic to ensure that you are not in any pain at all. In some cases a tooth can be so badly damaged that it is dead, in which case there is no use for an anesthetic. The opposite can happen too – the damage can be such that more nerve endings than usual and this requires special anesthetizing techniques.
Once the area is numb enough a dam is placed around the tooth to keep it dry as the dentist works on it (it is normal for excessive salivation to occur during dental procedures). The tooth is opened at the top so that the dentist can remove the damaged pulp and clean out the area. The dentist will then expand the canal using files so as to make it easy to place a temporary filling.
The dentist will allow some time for the area to heal and then on your next visit a permanent filling is installed and a sealant id applied on the tooth to make sure that bacteria cannot make their way in. The last step is to place a crown that protects the filling – if left exposed it can crack and lead to the same problem all over again. Crowns can be made of metal, porcelain, ceramic or powdered glass. The tooth is filed down so that when the crown it placed it fits exactly. The dentist will also take a mold of the tooth so as to make a custom crown for you. He will send off the mold to a crown manufacturer and it should be ready in a week or two. The crown is placed using a special kind of dental cement and you can expect it to last for up to 10 years depending on the material it is made out of and also how well you take care of your teeth.
How to recover after a root canal
It is important to stick to soft foods until you have healed from your root canal procedure. Do not eat hard candy or try to crush ice. Your mouth may feel a bit sore afterwards but this tends to clear on its own. Your dentist will prescribe mild painkillers and an antibiotic to reduce the risk of infection. He will also give you an appointment in a week or so during which he will monitor your healing.
It is important that you take care of your oral hygiene after a root canal – if you don’t you will get more cavities that will need additional root canals. Brush after meals and make sure to floss. Reduce sugar consumption and stick to a healthy diet. Make sure that you see your dentist at least twice a year to check on your oral hygiene and also on your crown – if it has developed cracks it can be replaced. Remember, crowns are not permanent, but there are some crown materials that last longer than others – talk it over with your dentist.