“Root canal” is actually the medical term used to describe a cavity—well, a canal— inside the tooth’s root. This cavity is filled with pulp, which are rich with nerve endings and blood vessels—thus, can be extremely painful when it’s infected—. When a root canal is severely infected, it can “kill” the pulp tissues and nerve, causing a condition we know as a dead tooth.
The root canal treatment, on the other hand, is something we are more familiar with: a treatment procedure to thoroughly clean the pulp tissue, nerve, blood vessel, and especially bacteria from the infected root canal.
What Causes Root Canal Infection
The pulp of a tooth is very vulnerable and is not designed to be exposed at all costs. When the tooth’s crown and/or the enamel is damaged—for example during a tooth decay or cavity—, the pulp is exposed, and can easily get injured due to impact and other damages (fillings, pressure by a broken tooth, dental procedures, etc.).
Due to this injury and contact with bacteria, the pulp tissues can be infected and the bacteria will multiply to the deeper area of the root canal, finally reaching and also infecting the nerves and blood vessels.
Here are some common causes of pulp injury and infection:
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Tooth cavity
- Decay beneath an existing filling that is left untreated
- Tooth abscess
- Damage to the tooth’s enamel (crack, chip)
- Root fracture (tooth’s nerve severed at the tip of the root)
- Gum disease or gum infection
Root Canal Complications
When a root canal infection is left untreated, the surrounding tissues might get severely infected and can cause:
- Dental abscess
- Jawbone infection, leading to bone loss near the tooth’s root
- Swelling on the cheek, face, head, and neck
- A hole at the side of the teeth, which can cause various drainage problems
Ultimately, the infection will cause necrosis/death to the pulp, nerves, and blood vessels, and so there’s no other option rather than removal.
Signs You Might Need a Root Canal
Below are the common symptoms that might indicate you are in need of a root canal treatment:
- Tooth decay, no matter how small initially, might develop into a root canal infection. If a tooth is cracked, loosened, or broken, treat it immediately
- Darkening of the tooth, or other discoloration
- Sense of pressure and a dull ache
- A spontaneous, sharp painful sense that is hard to locate (the pain sensation might come from an undamaged tooth or tissue)
- Extension of the painful sensation to your ear, jaw areas, and head (temple)
- Tenderness, swelling, and bleeding of the gums near the infected tooth
- Swelling of cheek, neck, jaw, and face
- Pimple on the gums that might discharge pus, causing metallic, bad taste and foul odor
- Severe pain when chewing or biting, and severe sensitivity when the tooth is touched or pressured
However, there are also cases—albeit rare—, where none of the symptoms and signs above are presented, but the pulp is already damaged or infected. This condition is usually detected via an X-ray imaging or other special examinations.
Treatment Alternatives: Root Canal Treatment VS Extraction
In the past, when a tooth’s root canal is already severely infected—and is essentially dead—, the only viable option is to remove or extract the tooth (including the root).
However, the missing gap caused by the extraction can cause various complications, the most severe is receding gumline and shrinking jawbone. Thus, more often than not, dentures (dental prosthetics) is implemented to fill the gap—commonly dental implant to replace the root and dental crown as the prosthetic tooth—.
With the advancements in dentistry and medical technology, nowadays we have another option: a root canal treatment, or also known as endodontic treatment.
In this procedure, a small hole is drilled into the infected tooth so the dentist can access the pulp chamber and the root canal. Using special instruments, the dentist will then remove the dead pulp tissues, nerves, and blood vessels along with other debris and especially bacteria.
The dentist will then thoroughly clean and disinfect the now-empty root canal space, and then will seal it with a special material (usually a rubber-like material called gutta–percha).
The main advantage of the root canal treatment is that we can maintain the structure of the dead tooth, so we can prevent the need for a dental implant.
|Root canal treatment||Extraction|
|Dentures||No implant and dentures necessary.||In most cases will need a dental implant and dental crown to replace the missing tooth. Will cost more and will require more maintenance|
|Recovery||Longer and more painful recovery period, but it’s significantly more manageable than in the past due to new technologies in dentistry||The faster recovery period, very little pain|
|Complications||There’s always the risk that the root canal isn’t 100% cleaned and disinfected during the procedure||Since the root is completely extracted, it’s 100% clean, but might develop other complications if the gap is not filled|
Recovery Period of a Root Canal Procedure
The root canal treatment is no longer the extremely painful and scary procedure it was once. Nowadays with all the modern dental technologies and dentistry techniques, the process is technically painless unless we count the anesthetic injection—which will cause a minor pain—.
Local anesthetics will be applied during the procedure, so the whole procedure will be relatively painless.
In most cases, the recovery period will only last a few days with only a minor tenderness or sensitivity felt during the recovery procedure.
Here are a few tips you can follow to help with the recovery period:
- Right after the procedure, wait until the anesthetics completely wear off before you eat. This is so you can avoid chewing your cheek or tongue due to the numbness
- Brush gently and carefully. You can floss, but do it very carefully not to hurt the recovering gums
- Avoid putting pressure (i.e. biting down) to the treated tooth until it has been completely cured
- If the pain is unmanageable or last more than a week, contact your dentist immediately.
- Minor swelling is expected during the recovery period, if the swelling worsens within the first couple of days, visit your dentist
With a root canal treatment, it’s possible to save an otherwise dead tooth and maintain its structure. While a root canal treatment might seem costly at first glance, in most cases we will end up spending less compared with paying for a dental implant and crown—which are usually required after an extraction—.
With today’s technologies, a root canal procedure is not only less painful than ever, but also more affordable with a faster recovery procedure. Give us a call here at Markham Smile Centre, and schedule an appointment with our dental professional to discuss whether you are in need of a root canal treatment.