Root Canal Therapy

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Although it’s not on our list of favourite things to do, going to the dentist is generally well tolerated. Check-ups, cleanings, and a filling or two are easy peasy – but mention a root canal and watch a look of trepidation wash over us. The truth is, root canal therapy has gotten a bad rap. This procedure has saved many natural teeth from necessary extraction and the experience for the patient is similar to having a regular filling placed.

What is Root Canal Therapy

The Experience

Root canals are performed on teeth that have endured trauma, cracking or breaking, or infection. Rather than remove the tooth, a root canal allows the inside of the tooth to be cleaned out and sealed with a crown. This effectively kills the tooth but allows it to maintain its place in the socket while the crown protects the natural tooth within it.

In order to perform a root canal, your dentist will freeze the treatment area with local anesthetic. Once you are sufficiently anesthetized, you will not feel any pain from the procedure, and although the procedure may take longer to conduct than a filling, the patient experience will be the same. If you bought into the story that root canals are invasive and painful, you can officially set aside those concerns. If you need a root canal and don’t have one performed due to anxiety, you could be putting your tooth, and your health, at serious risk. 

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The Procedure

Once you are sufficiently numb, your dentist will create an opening to the inside of the tooth and begin to remove infected nerve tissue and pulp. Once the tooth is properly cleaned, it is filled with a rubbery substance called gutta percha. From there, your dentist will place a temporary crown on your tooth while the dimensions of your natural tooth are forwarded to a dental lab where your crown will be made. When you return at a later date, your dentist will remove your temporary crown and install your custom crown.

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How Infection Occurs

Root canals are often performed after a tooth has been cracked or broken in such a way that it exposes the inside of the tooth to bacteria. Since bacteria lives in high numbers in the human mouth, any access to the inside of the tooth will eventually end in infection. That means that cavities that have progressed too close to the inner chamber may also require root canal therapy. Where there are signs of infection your dentist will likely provide you with a prescription for antibiotic medication which should be taken in their entirety, and only as directed.

The risk of infection in the mouth is its potential to travel to other areas of the head and neck, or to other areas of the body through the blood stream. In these cases, infection can become septic which can ultimately be fatal if not addressed as soon as possible.

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Signs of Infection

If you have an unexplained toothache, the first thing that should be done is a visual exam of the area. Observe the biting surface of the tooth and both sides. Look for signs of significant decay or changes in the tooth such as a break or loss of filling. Next, check the tissues around the tooth for signs of redness. Gums should be pink but should not be red, swollen or visibly irritated.

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If you have a tooth infection, you may see a spot on the gums around the affected tooth. The spot will likely look like a pimple, which suggests an abscess, and it may or may not be draining into the mouth. If the pustule (pimple) has not popped, do not make any attempt to break it. Sometimes, pustules are not visible, but infection is still draining from the gums. This is likely the case if you taste something metallic or sour coming from that side of the mouth that won’t go away with rinsing. If you taste this, rinse your mouth with clean, cool water regularly.

If you are in pain and have the symptoms of a tooth infection, this warrants a call to your dentist’s office to be seen for an emergency appointment. While we do keep some spots open to allow for emergency appointments, an appointment may not be immediately available. If this is the case, our clinic will advise you as to whether you should wait to be seen the next day or see the nearest emergency dentist before returning to us for a follow-up. If your tooth stops hurting, don’t cancel your appointment, since the nerve may have died but the infection could still be worsening. Don’t put your health at risk – see your dentist as soon as possible.

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