Most people don’t enjoy going to the dentist. In fact, many people avoid going to the dentist’s office because they worry that many dental procedures could be painful or scary. Unfortunately, while most dental procedures alleviate pain rather than causing it, misconceptions about dental work keep people from seeking dental care when they need it.

Even movies add to misconceptions about painful dental work. For example, “Finding Nemo” features a few scenes that take place in a dental office. During one of these scenes, we see a man getting a root canal. The man screams as the dentist drills through his tooth. Because movies such as “Finding Nemo” depict dental procedures as agonizing and dreadful, it’s no surprise that people fear the dentist’s chair.

However, patient education is a great way to combat these fears and misconceptions. In this blog, we’ll educate you about one of the most common dental procedures: root canals. Below, you’ll find all the vital information you need to know about root canals so you can approach the dentist’s chair with confidence-not trepidation.

Signs You Should Schedule a Root Canal

Before you learn about root canals, it may be helpful to know if you need to schedule this procedure with your dentist. Symptoms that indicate you need a root canal include:

  • Darkening of your teeth
  • Extreme and lasting tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Severe pain as you chew or apply pressure to a tooth
  • Tenderness and swelling in the gums near the affected tooth

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a dental professional as soon as possible.

The Basics of the Procedure

If your teeth develop cavities or become injured, the tooth’s pulp and root could become damaged. Additionally, the root and pulp can become inflamed and infected. To preserve the tooth and its root, your dentist will perform a root canal. The procedure was named a “root canal” because the term refers to the area where the tooth root is located.

During the procedure, your dentist will numb your tooth, and then open the tooth and expose the pulp chamber. Since the affected area has been numbed, you shouldn’t feel any pain. You may feel a little bit of pressure during the procedure, but you likely won’t have to worry about feeling any other discomfort.

Your dentist will then remove the infected pulp and clean and prepare the canal for a filling. After the infected material has been removed and the canal cleaned, your dentist will fill the empty space with a permanent material called gutta-percha. This material prevents the canals from becoming infected again in the future.

Finally, your dentist will rebuild the top of your tooth. He or she will add a temporary filling on top of the opening in your tooth.

Once the tooth has had some time to heal, you will revisit your dentist to get a crown or permanent filling on top of this opening. This additional covering further protects your tooth from infections. Sometimes, dentists will add a post next to the filling material inside your tooth to provide the crown with extra support.

Reasons You Need a Root Canal

As previously mentioned, you need a root canal if a tooth root has become inflamed or infected. Cracks and cavities in your teeth expose the pulp to bacteria in your mouth. When bacteria settle into the holes and cracks in your teeth, they can then cause the pulp to become infected. Once an infection develops in the tooth pulp, the tooth root may develop the same infection.

The infection leads to a pus-filled abscess that can further damage your tooth and its root. If left unaddressed, the infection will cause the following side effects:

  • Bone loss around the tooth root
  • Swelling that could spread to your neck, face, and head
  • Drainage into your gums, cheeks, and skin

If these problems develop, not only could the rest of your teeth be affected, but you may also develop other health conditions that may be difficult to treat. To prevent any further damage to your smile, and to maintain good overall health, schedule a root canal.

As an additional tip, make sure to schedule biannual cleanings and checkups with your dentist. During these preventative care exams, your dentist will check for any cracks and cavities in your teeth and repair any issues before more serious problems develop.

Steps to Take After Your Root Canal

After the procedure, your dentist will ask you to take a few steps to ensure your tooth heals properly and doesn’t become infected again. These steps include:

  • Brush and floss your teeth as you normally would.
  • Don’t chew on your tooth until after it has been covered with a permanent filling or crown.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain medications to manage post-procedure swelling and pain.

If you need to schedule a root canal with your dentist, educate yourself about the procedure. Remember the information above, and talk to your dentist for more information. He or she can answer any lingering questions you may have. Your dentist can also provide you with additional tips to preserve your smile after you leave his or her office.