There is hardly an adult who has not heard of a root canal, which is commonly referred to as RCT (root canal treatment). If you haven’t had root canal treatment, then you are either very fortunate or take good care of your teeth with regular brushing, flossing and rinsing along with visits to your dentist.
So what is this root canal treatment that we’ve all grown to fear and dread? Before we discuss it, we must first learn about the structure of the tooth so we can understand why a root canal can become necessary.
Your Tooth Structure
Your tooth has a visible part called the crown, and the root which is held in the tooth socket in the jaw. While the outer covering of the root is formed of a hard material called the cementum, the crown is protected by an even harder dental enamel. In fact, the enamel is the hardest tissue in the body. It also gives the natural glitter to your beautiful teeth. The root has hollow chambers running along the length of the roots. These are not actually hollow but are filled with the soft pulp, consisting primarily of nerves and blood vessels that are meant to supply the tooth during growth. This chamber is variously called the pulp chamber, or the root canal.
The Hardest Tissue is Vulnerable
Tooth enamel is rich in minerals, especially calcium apatite crystals. Saliva, which is always moistening your teeth, is also rich in calcium apatite. A quiet, chemical process goes on all the time with apatite mineral moving from the enamel to the saliva, and from the saliva to the enamel, simultaneously. The process is balanced under normal conditions and the enamel structure does not change. However, things change if you maintain poor oral hygiene. Particles of food and saliva remain stuck to your teeth in the form of plaque.
Bacteria which are always present in the human mouth act on the food particles in the plaque and convert the sugars in there to acid. Presence of acid upsets the mineral exchange process. More mineral tends to accumulate in the saliva, thus ‘demineralizing’ the enamel. The enamel starts getting porous. If you visit your dentist regularly, she will detect a sign of demineralization and take necessary action as needed.
Cavities in Your Teeth
If care isn’t given to the teeth in need of it, cavities begin to develop. A toothache can emerge which signals a serious dental problem that needs your attention. Visit your dentist so they can fill the cavity and prevent it from spreading. But if you don’t, the cavity deepens, plaque builds up, and a bacterial infection develops.
The Pulp Gets Infected
Further neglect lets the cavity deepen, and the infection may penetrate to the pulp. An infected pulp generates intense pressure and hence unbearable pain. That is the time when no clove oil or painkiller works. You may wish to get rid of the tooth, and indeed, during prior decades that was the recommended course. Today, however, modern dentistry offers the root canal treatment to save a natural tooth from extraction. Tooth extraction will relieve the terrible pain, but a lost tooth can mean a severely affected a smile, difficulty in eating and in pronouncing certain sounds correctly. Teeth extraction should be considered the last alternative for these reasons.
Root Canal Treatment
A root canal treatment is performed to remove the irreversibly infected pulp tissue from the interior of the tooth. You may need a root canal treatment due to any of the following reasons:
Poor Oral Hygiene – as discussed earlier, poor oral hygiene gradually causes demineralization of the enamel. As a result, the pulp is exposed and ultimately gets infected.
Trauma – in case of an accidental impact, teeth get fractured or chipped in such a way that the pulp gets exposed to the exterior environment. In these cases, a root canal procedure needs to be performed to prevent pain and discomfort.
What are the Signs of Needing Root Canal Treatment?
If you notice any of the following problems, then you may need a root canal treatment:
Pain – If you feel continuous, severe pain in one of your teeth which does not subside even after taking pain-relieving medication.
Swelling – swelling, and redness in the region of the affected tooth indicates the presence of an underlying infection.
Difficulty in Chewing – it becomes painful to eat from the affected side
Abscess Formation – because of the infection, a pus-filled abscess can form around the tooth which adds to the pain and discomfort.
How is the Root Canal Treatment Performed?
First, your dentist will perform a thorough clinical examination, followed by x-ray images of the affected tooth to determine the location and severity of the infection. The first step in a root canal procedure is to administer local anesthesia so that you become pain-free and relax. Next, your dentist will drill a hole inside the tooth to expose the pulp. Don’t worry, you won’t feel any pain due to the anesthesia. Your dentist will then use special instruments to remove the infected pulp from the tooth while cleaning and shaping the interior of the roots, or the root canals.
The root canal procedure is usually performed in multiple steps. During each visit, your dentist will clean the canal, place a medicament and restore the tooth with a temporary filling. Once the infection has subsided, the root canals are filled with an inert material. The tooth crown is also restored with a permanent filling. Since teeth become brittle after endodontic treatment, dentists place a crown over them to protect them from chipping or fracturing in the future.
What to Expect after a Root Canal Treatment?
It is not uncommon to have slight pain, swelling, and discomfort after a root canal procedure. Begin a soft diet of foods that are easily digestible recommended by your dentist. Eating hard and sticky foods can lead to dislodgment of the crown. Also avoid eating from the affected side until the pain subsides and the crown settles from the procedure.
Contrary to popular opinion, the root canal procedure itself is not terribly painful. You will just feel the vibration and hear sounds of the dental instruments. So, if you’re avoiding a root canal procedure just because you’re afraid it will be painful, then there is no need to worry. Thanks to modern dentistry, root canal treatment has become a completely pain-free treatment.
Feel free to let us know if you have any questions or concerns in the comments. And if you have any other concerns with root canal treatment or worried you may need to have it performed, please don’t hesitate to call us today or book an appointment online.