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Root Canal: Symptoms, Procedure and Treatment

March 4, 2022

What is a Root Canal?

Root Canal is a dental procedure that relieves pain caused by an infected or abscessed tooth, it involves the removal of the soft centre of the tooth or inflamed pulp which is made up of nerves, connective tissue & blood vessels that help the tooth grow.

The removal of the pulp is followed by cleaning and disinfecting the surfaces inside the tooth. A filling is finally placed to seal the space.

The procedure is mostly performed by a general dentist or endodontist under local anaesthesia.

When is a Root Canal Needed?

Sometimes the oral bacteria invade the soft inner part of a tooth, known as the pulp, causing injury, inflammation or infection. In such cases, a root canal becomes a necessity.

The crown of the tooth can remain intact even when the pulp is dead. Thus removing the injured or the infected pulp becomes the only way to preserve the structure of the tooth.

Common causes of damage to the pulp include:

A cavity left untreated for a long time, causing deep decay

A tooth that is cracked, chipped or damaged due to trauma.

Multiple dental procedures have been performed on the same tooth

An injury to the tooth including those where the crown is not damaged.

Symptoms of Root Canal

Though in some cases, a patient may not know they have an infected tooth, there are usually some symptoms that indicate that one needs a root canal. These include:

Persistent Tooth Pain

A deep pain in the tooth that may also radiate to the jaw, face or other teeth may be an indication that one needs root canal therapy. 

Sensitivity to Heat and Cold

A tooth that hurts from drinking or eating hot or cold foods, especially where the pain persists for more than a few seconds can mean that one needs a root canal treatment

Swollen Gums

Pus can accumulate in the area when the tooth is infected, leading to puffy, swollen or tender gums.

Bad Smell

A pimple or boil may develop on the gums and pus from the infected tooth that drains from the pimple, can cause an unpleasant taste or smell.

Swollen Jaw

Lack of drainage from the site may result in a swollen jaw.

Tooth discolouration: Infected pulp of a tooth can cause the tooth to look darker because of a poor blood supply to the tooth.

Pain on Applying Pressure

Pain on eating or touching the tooth could be a sign that the nerves around the pulp are damaged.

Loose Tooth

The pus from the infected pulp can soften the bone that supports the tooth, resulting in the tooth becoming loose.

Also Read: Dental Implant Vs. Bridge: Which One Is the Best Option for You

How is a Root Canal Performed?

A root canal is performed in a dental office. The painful tooth is examined and X-rays are taken by the dentist to confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of damage 

The steps of a root canal procedure include:

Anaesthesia

A small amount of numbing medication is placed on the gum near the affected tooth.

A local anaesthetic is injected into the gums once the area is numb.

Other medications like nitrous oxide, oral sedatives or intravenous (IV) sedation may also be used to help the patient relax.

Sedation might be recommended for those who face dental anxiety. 

Removal of the Pulp

A small rubber dam is placed over the area to isolate the tooth and keep it dry during the procedure and a small opening is made in the crown of the tooth to expose the infected or damaged.

Nerves, blood vessels and tissues inside the tooth are removed using tiny dental instruments called files. All the pathways or canals in the tooth are carefully cleared.

Antibiotics

After removing the pulp, the dentist coats the area with a topical antibiotic to ensure disinfection. 

After cleaning and disinfecting the canals, the dentist fills and seals the tooth with a flexible, rubbery dental material called gutta-percha.

Some oral antibiotics may also be provided to prevent further infection. 

Temporary Filling

The procedure ends with filling the top of the tooth with a soft, temporary dental filling to seal the tooth, prevent bacteria from re-entering and prevent the canals from being damaged by saliva.

Placing the Final Restoration

A dental crown is needed in most cases to protect the treated tooth and restore the patient’s comfort and bite.

The realistic appearance of the crown is also one of its benefits. As the crowns are custom-made, their fabrication generally takes two to three weeks.

Once the crown is ready, the dentist removes the temporary filling and places the permanent crown. 

How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

The root canal therapy may need one or two appointments depending on the amount of infection in the tooth.

The total time taken by a root canal treatment is about 30 to 60 minutes. If it’s a larger tooth with multiple roots, which requires treatment, this time can go up to an hour and a half.

What to Expect After the Procedure?

Pain After Root Canal

The gums might feel a little sore and may swell as the numbing medication wears off.

However, these symptoms are easily treatable with over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol or Advil.

There may be some sensitivity also for the initial few days. However one must call the dentist if the pain becomes unbearable or persists for more than a few days.

What to Eat After Root Canal?

One can eat normally after the effects of the anaesthesia wear off.

However, one should try to stick with softer foods like pasta, mashed potatoes and yoghurts for the first two days.

Solid food can be introduced as the comfort level improves.

One should avoid biting or chewing with the treated tooth and try chewing on the other side of the mouth until the permanent dental crown is in place.

Resuming Normal Activity

One can resume normal activities the same or the next day. However, if one takes sedation during the dental procedure, an extra day or two may be needed to fully recover.

Aftercare 

As root canal is considered a restorative procedure, its positive results can be enjoyed for the rest of life.

However, how long the results last depends on good oral hygiene habits.

One must brush and floss normally, and preferably use an antibacterial mouthwash.

A Note from the Doctor

Dr Sheena Gaur, a dentist at Kirkland Premier Dentistry says a Root canal is a very safe procedure, which can help save the tooth.

One must consult a healthcare professional immediately if they notice any symptoms, such as tooth pain, swelling, bad taste or other warning signs.

The sooner the infected tooth is treated, the better the chance of saving it.

He further adds that Regular dental check-ups can play a big part in curtailing the risk of infection as this gives the dentist a chance to detect problems before they worsen.

A timely Root canal procedure can prevent infection from spreading and relieve pain so that one can return to their routine activities.

For any kind of dental emergency, feel free to contact us online or call the office.

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