You’ve probably heard of the dreaded root canal, but many individuals are unfamiliar with exactly what a root canal is or why it needs to be performed. And while it sounds like a potentially painful procedure, it is a necessary step in ensuring excellent oral health. When performed correctly by a reputable dentist, a root canal is a simple inpatient procedure that will last for many years.

Why would I ever need a root canal?

A root canal is performed when an injury (most commonly a cavity) affects the root area underneath the tooth. This area gets infected and can cause severe complications if it is not treated by a root canal. A cavity that grows too large can reach into the root of the tooth and create pulp buildup, which will eventually cause an infection. These infections can be very dangerous and can lead to a multitude of gum and mouth diseases. Visiting a dentist as soon as you feel you have a cavity will prevent an infection from spreading. If the cavity has already spread, the damage can usually be stopped through the use of a root canal.

How is a root canal performed?

The root canal is similar to getting a cavity filled, but is performed underneath the tooth instead of on top of the tooth in the case of the cavity.

In order for a root canal to be completed, the tooth must first be numbed to prevent any pain from occurring during the procedure. Once the patient’s tooth is completely numb, the dentist will drill a hole through the crown of the tooth toward the root. The dentist will then file away infected tissue and pulp that is causing damage within the root. Once the canals are free of infectious tissue and pulp, they will be shaped specifically to hold the permanent fillings. The filling is inserted in the canal to “plug” it up and keep any infection from reoccurring.

The tooth will eventually grow back on top of the root, but it needs a temporary filling material to ensure that the root stays protected while the tooth is growing back. This temporary filling is inserted into the tooth and a crown is placed on top. The crown is then cemented down to the tooth to ensure the longevity of the procedure.

It is important for patients expecting a root canal to understand that procedure is not generally painful because of the amount of anesthetic that is used. It can be an uncomfortable experience, but most dentists that frequently perform root canals can do the procedure quickly and without much pain.