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What To Expect From a Root Canal


A dentist performs a root canal

If your dentist has told you that you need a root canal, then you may have lots of questions. We want to help you to better understand what a root canal looks like. We hope that by talking through what you can expect from the root canal procedure itself, as well as what you might experience after the root canal, we can help allay any fears that you may have about this much-maligned procedure.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a dental procedure designed to remove the pulp from the inside of a tooth. As Healthline explains, "The pulp is made up of nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels that help the tooth grow." Sometimes, though, the pulp can become infected, and in the interest of saving the tooth (preventing it from needing to be extracted altogether), your dentist may recommend a root canal to remove the infected pulp while leaving the tooth otherwise intact.

Why do I need a root canal?

If the pulp in one of your teeth gets inflamed or becomes infected, then a root canal may be needed to save the tooth from further damage, or from extraction. Generally speaking, the pulp is in danger of infection if a tooth gets damaged. Healthline provides a list of common causes of damage that may impact the pulp:

  • deep decay due to an untreated cavity
  • multiple dental procedures on the same tooth
  • a chip or crack in the tooth
  • an injury to the tooth (you might injure a tooth if you get hit in the mouth; the pulp can still be damaged even if the injury doesn’t crack the tooth)

If one of these things happens, your dentist may determine that a root canal is the best course of action.

How will I know if I need a root canal?

As we said above, your dentist will recommend a root canal if they determine that the pulp of your tooth has been damaged. There are several warning signs that may indicate that it’s time to see your dentist and ask about a root canal. WebMD says that these signs include:

  • Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
  • Prolonged sensitivity (pain) to hot or cold temperatures (after the heat or cold has been removed)
  • Discoloration (darkening) of the tooth
  • Swelling and tenderness in nearby gums
  • A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums

What does a root canal procedure look like?

Not every dentist specializes in root canal procedures. If your general dentist determines that the root canal exceeds their expertise, they may refer you to a specialist called an endodontist.

Before the procedure, the dentist will take X-rays of your tooth to determine the best plan. As WebMD describes, "The first step in the procedure is to take an X-ray to see the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs of infection in the surrounding bone."

Next, the dentist will numb the area with a local anesthetic. Healthline says, "When your tooth is numb, the endodontist or general dentist will make a small opening in the top of the tooth. Once the infected or damaged pulp is exposed, the specialist will carefully remove it using special tools called files."

After removing the pulp, the dentist will, in the words of Healthline, "coat the area with a topical antibiotic to ensure that the infection is gone and to prevent reinfection. Once the canals are cleaned and disinfected, the dentist will fill and seal the tooth with a sealer paste and rubber-like material called gutta-percha."

Finally, the dentist will fill the opening in the tooth with a temporary filling that will be replaced later in a follow-up visit.

What should I expect after a root canal?

Generally, you may feel a bit sore after your root canal procedure, but in many cases, the discomfort will be less than the pain in your tooth before your root canal. Most dentists will recommend over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to handle the pain. WebMD indicates that "most patients can return to their normal activities the next day."

Root canals generally call for follow-up care. Your dentist will want to see you a few days after your procedure to replace the temporary filling they used the day of the procedure. They may recommend a crown if the tooth was badly damaged. WebMD says that "root canal treatment is highly successful; the procedure has more than a 95% success rate."

If you are experiencing any of the root canal warning signs, don't delay–schedule an appointment with Smiles Of Cary today!

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Smiles of Cary Family Dentistry

  • 1150 NW Maynard Rd,
    STE 120, Cary
    NC 27513
  • (919) 646-6538
  • Monday: 8am – 5pm Tuesday: 9am – 6pm Wednesday: 8am – 5pm Thursday: 9am – 6pm Friday: 8am – 1pm Saturday: Closed Sunday: Closed
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