A root canal is a type of dental procedure that is performed under local anesthesia and involves the removal of infected pulp.
You’ll find pulp below the hard, white enamel and dentin layers of a tooth. It comprises the connective tissue, blood vessels, and nerves that supply the tooth with nutrients and oxygen. Pulp is necessary when a tooth is growing, but a fully-grown tooth can survive without it.
During a root canal procedure, the pulp is taken out, and the remaining hole is filled and sealed. It’s a relatively quick process that can significantly reduce pain and the risk of further tooth infections.
When Do You Need a Root Canal?
A root canal is necessary when the pulp becomes inflamed due to injury or infection. Dentists can remove the inner pulp while leaving the crown of the tooth intact.
The most common causes of damage to the pulp of a tooth are:
- Tooth decay due to poor oral hygiene
- Cracks or chips in the tooth
- Injury to the tooth caused by trauma
- Tooth and gum infections
It’s difficult to notice the physical trauma of a tooth pulp when looking inside your mouth. However, you’re likely to experience a number of symptoms if you have a damaged pulp, including:
- Severe pain, especially when chewing
- Spots on your gums
- Changes in sensitivity to hot and cold in a certain tooth or teeth
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Severe tooth decay
What Happens in a Root Canal Procedure?
A root canal procedure is performed in a dental clinic by a specialist and it will follow the general steps below.
Administration of anesthetic
The dentist will inject some medications into the gum around the affected tooth, known as a local anesthetic. This might be slightly painful but the pain should only last a few seconds. Soon after, the effects of the anesthetic will start to appear and the area will become numb.
The dentist will then proceed to create a small opening in the affected tooth so that they can remove the pulp inside. They do so by using tools called files, which are specifically designed to minimize damage to surrounding areas of the tooth.
Sealing the tooth
Once all of the pulp has been carefully removed, the dentist will clean and disinfect the area before filling the resulting hole with special paste called gutta-percha. After this point, they will seal the filling to secure it in place. The sealant also prevents saliva from damaging the gutta-percha.
To reduce the risk of infections after the procedure, the dentist might prescribe oral antibiotics. Usually, you’ll need to take antibiotics for just seven days, by which point, the risk of infection caused by the root canal procedure is minimal.