What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is an infection in the root or pulp of your tooth, this is your tooth’s core. The infection is often the result of bacteria and can happen when a cavity is left alone or not treated properly. A root canal can cause an abscess to form under the tooth when it goes untreated.
A root canal can cause excruciating pain, as the infection affects the nerves in your teeth. When you have a root canal, your dentist can perform root canal surgery. This will effectively remove the infection and ideally, preserve the natural tooth for as long as possible.
How is a Root Canal Treated?
Root canals are most often treated with surgery. Sometimes a patient may require emergency surgery if the pain becomes unbearable. Root canal surgery is also known as root canal therapy and it is performed under local anesthetic. This means that you will be awake for the procedure, but you will not feel it. Your dentist will inject an anesthetic into the surrounding gums to numb the area.
Once you are unable to feel pain in your mouth, they will use a tiny drill to remove the first few layers of the infected tooth. Your dentist will reach the inner pulp core of your tooth. This layer is filled with blood vessels and nerves. This is the area that becomes infected by bacteria in a root canal.
Your dentist will remove the infected pulp of your tooth, then rinse and sterilize the inner root, to eliminate the bacteria. The tooth is then filled and capped with a temporary crown. Patients can often return to work or school immediately after root canal surgery. The numbness lasts for 2-4 hours and the pain is often gone after surgery (the nerves in your teeth have been removed).
If the tooth is abscessed you may still feel pain or pressure in the area and this could last for up to 4 days. Your dentist will prescribe antibiotics for you to take after surgery if this is the case. The entire procedure takes between 1-2 hours, depending on the tooth and the extent of the infection. The Canadian Dental Association has an in-depth article about root canal treatment if you are interested in learning more.
Symptoms of a Root Canal
Root canal pain can happen over time as the infection worsens, but it can also happen over a short period of time with an abscess. Root canals are easy to identify because the pain is often very sharp. There are several different symptoms
- You experience tooth sensitivity
- Certain teeth are darkening
- Gums are swollen
- Gums appear warm or red in one area
- Severe, stabbing pain when chewing
- A toothache that won’t go away
If you experience these symptoms or suspect you have a root canal, call your dentist immediately.
Are Root Canals Painful?
No. Today root canals do not need to be painful at all. If a tooth is properly anesthetized, a person will not feel discomfort during a root canal, any more than one would during routine fillings. And the majority of root canals today are completed painlessly within one appointment.
The Truth is – Root canal treatment doesn’t cause pain, it relieves it.
Are Root Canals Safe?
There has been some ongoing controversy over the safety of root-canaled teeth. When a root canal is properly done, all the living and dead tissue within the canal is removed.
The canal is irrigated with antibacterial solutions to eliminate any bacteria present, and then a combination of filling material and sealers/cement is used to fill the canal. The success of the treatment is traditionally based on a lack of symptoms after surgery, an x-ray showing filling material completely sealing the canal to the tip of the root and no sign of infection on the x-ray itself.
However, the roots of our teeth are made up of dentin. This material is porous and contains many microscopic tubules. Some experts believe that even successful root canals may contain some living or dead bacteria within these tubules, and that these bacteria and/or the toxins they produce may potentially spread to other areas of the body causing health problems, even though the tooth itself will feel fine and appear normal.
The Focal Infection Theory
This theory is known as focal infection and the alternative has been to simply extract the tooth. Since the 1990’s the focal infection theory has seen a resurgence and many patients and some practitioners are now beginning to question the success and the possible health concerns of root-canaled teeth.
The focal infection theory is still very controversial and the evidence for it is not very definitive. The standard of care from the Canadian and American Dental Associations is root canals are effective and the focal infection theory is invalid or questionable at best. Based on a lack of tooth symptoms and x-rays alone, about 85-90% of all root canals are successful, in that there are no signs of infection or symptoms from the tooth.
When they do fail, it can be the result of difficulty obtaining a proper seal at the tip of the root and/or the strength of your immune system. This can often be corrected by retreatment or cleaning the area at the tip of the root (apicoectomy).
Further, there are alternative root canal ‘fillers’ that may be appropriate options for patients with concerns about focal infection. Therefore, prior to making any irreversible decisions such as extracting a tooth you should review all of your options with your dentist.
Visit VCCID for Root Canal Treatment in Burnaby, BC
If you think that you may have a root canal, or you are experiencing symptoms listed above, contact VCCID for a consultation.
Dr. Balogh and his team are equipped and have over 35 years of experience to help you. The VCCID team would be happy to provide you with additional information about your root canal options. Please call us today at (604) 434-0248 or visit our clinic in Burnaby, Metrotown.