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Root Canal – Symptoms, Procedure, Pain And Problems

What Is A Root Canal?

A root canal also called a root filling, is the process of removing the nerve tissue from the canal which is located inside the root of a tooth.  This is done when the nerve of the tooth becomes infected causing an abscess at the tip of the root.  A root canal can be done by your general dentist or if it’s complicated you may be referred to a root canal specialist, called an endodontist.

Root Canal Symptoms

Sometimes you may experience no symptoms at all, but other times you may experience one or more of the following root canal symptoms:

  • Severe toothache and pain when chewing or biting
  • A pimple on the gum
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold, which remains after the hot or cold has been removed
  • Darkening of the tooth
  • Sore gums and swelling
  • Other reasons that your dentist may recommend a root canal is if decay or a filling is very deep and goes all the down to where the nerve is or bone loss around the root of the tooth.

Root Canal Procedure

A root canal involves two or more visits to your dentist or endodontist.  Each appointment will take around an hour.  During the first appointment, the dentist will make your tooth numb using a local anesthetic.  They will then place what’s called a rubber dam over your mouth to isolate your tooth so you don’t get saliva on it.  A rubber dam is a thin sheet of rubber that goes over your mouth with only the tooth having the treatment being exposed.  You are still able to breathe and swallow with a rubber dam on but you won’t be able to close your mouth or talk.

Firstly the dentist needs to drill into the top of the tooth to gain access to the canals.  They will then clean out the canals using what look like tapered pins with a rough surface, called endodontic files.  They will also flush out your tooth, usually using bleach, to remove any debris and disinfect the tooth.  This is called irrigation and may be done multiple times during the procedure.  The canal will now be dried and an antibiotic paste will be put inside and a temporary filling placed on top.  The second appointment will be a minimum of one week after the first appointment.  This appointment is similar to the first one, you will wear the rubber dam, the canal will be cleaned out with files, irrigated, and dried once again.  But the canal is now just an empty hole and needs to be filled.  This is done using gutta-percha, which is made of rubber, to fill the tooth all the way to the tip of the root.  A white or silver filling then needs to be placed on the top surface of the tooth.

Is A Root Canal Painful?

You may have heard horror stories about the pain involved in having a root canal, but root canal pain is much less common than you may think.  You shouldn’t experience any more pain during a root canal than you do during a filling.  The reason some people experience pain is if their tooth is quite infected and the local anesthetic can’t penetrate as well through the infection to make the tooth numb.  It is only during the first appointment that you may experience pain after this most of the nerve tissue has been removed and therefore it is very unlikely that you will feel any pain.  Following treatment for a root canal, there may be a pain as your body tries to heal the infection.  Pain relief and antibiotics should be taken as recommended by your dentist.

Root Canal Problems

No matter how thoroughly your dentist cleans your tooth and completes your root canal, problems can still occur.  A dentist does not actually remove the infection around the tooth.  What they do is remove the source of the infection (that is the bacteria in the canal of your tooth) and it is your body that actually heals the infection.  If you have other health problems, it may be hard for your body to heal the infection or it may recur many years after having a root canal. If you do have a recurrent infection you may need to have the root canal re-done or remove the tooth.

Do I Need A Crown After A Root Canal?

Having your tooth treated with a root canal removes the blood supply to the tooth which means that it can discolor and become brittle over time.  Your dentist may suggest that you get a crown to hold the tooth together and protect the tooth from breaking.  A crown will hide the discoloration and strengthen the tooth.