Some dental procedures have gained a reputation over the years as being painful and worth avoiding at all costs. Root canals fall into that category. But the truth about this commonly performed dental procedure is quite different than the myths that have been built up around it. Modern dental technology makes it possible for patients to feel little or no discomfort whatsoever during most procedures, including root canals. In this article, we provide some helpful information and answer, once and for all, the question, “Do root canals hurt?”
The Truth about Root Canals
In reality, root canals don’t hurt. In fact, because of advancements in anesthetics and dental sedation methods, the vast majority of root canal patients feel no pain at all during the procedure. But that’s not the case for people who need a root canal and haven’t yet had the procedure performed. The fact is that the symptoms of needing a root canal are often quite painful, and the procedure itself alleviates that pain for the patient.
Signs that You Might Need a Root Canal
People who form an infection in the pulp of a tooth quite often require a root canal. Every person is different. Some people may need a root canal without every knowing that anything is wrong. But most patients will experience one or more of the following symptoms that indicate a root canal is needed:
- An extremely bad toothache – We all get an occasional toothache for one reason or another. But people who need a root canal will typically experience sudden, extreme pain in and around the affected tooth. Often, biting down, bending over or lying down will make the pain worse.
- Hot and cold sensitivity – There can be many reasons why people are sensitive to hot and cold foods and drinks, such as receding gums, for example. So if you have sensitive teeth, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a root canal. But if that sensitivity is centered around one particular tooth, comes on suddenly, and lingers after you’ve finished eating or drinking, it can be associated with an infected tooth that requires a root canal.
- Inflamed gums – If you notice that your gums are swollen and tender in one area of your mouth, it could indicate that an infection is present in a tooth. Typically, gum tissue that is inflamed because of an infection is also painful to the touch.
- Fistula on gums – Pimple-like bumps on gums are called “fistula” and are often associated with an infection.
- Darkening of a tooth and/or gum tissue – An infected tooth will often turn dark in color, as will the surrounding gum tissue if the tooth begins to die.
- An abscess – The most obvious indication of an abscess from the patient’s point of view is severe pain. On an X-ray, an abscess appears as a dark spot on the bone tissue.
The only way to know for sure whether or not you need a root canal is to visit your dentist. But if you experience one or more of the symptoms listed above, call your dentist to schedule an appointment. It’s possible that you won’t need a root canal, but if you do have an infection it will be important to treat it as soon as possible.
The Steps Involved in a Root Canal Procedure
Root canals are common procedures that are performed each and every day by dentists all across the US. A dental provider that specializes in root canals is called an “endodontist.” Not every dentist performs root canals, and those that do not will often refer their patients to an endodontist to have the procedure done. Although the exact steps involved in a root canal may vary slightly, what follows is the most typical sequence:
- Administering of anesthetic and sedation – The first step in any root canal procedure is to apply a numbing agent to the gum tissue surrounding the affected tooth. If the patient is particularly anxious about the procedure, the dentist or endodontist may also administer some form of dental sedation to help the person relax.
- Placing a dental dam in the patient’s mouth – A dental dam is often used as a means of isolating the tooth that requires a root canal.
- Accessing the pulp and root canals – The next step is for the dentist or endodontist to drill into the tooth in order to access the root canals and pulp of the tooth. Once that is accomplished, the dentist uses specially designed instruments to remove the pulp and nerves of the tooth. During this process, the root canals are cleaned out and disinfected with antibacterial and antiseptic solutions, which eliminates any bacteria present and treats the infection.
- Shaping and filling the canals – The next step is for the dentist to shape the canals in the tooth and fill them with a rubber-like material. Dental adhesive is then applied to seal the canals.
- Sealing the access hole – Finally, the dentist or endodontist seals the access hole in the tooth with a filling. In some cases, a crown will be applied to the tooth to provide further protection and to strengthen the existing tooth structure.
Because a tooth doesn’t require nerves or pulp to function normally, the end result of the root canal procedure is a tooth that is infection-free and performs just the same as any other tooth in the patient’s mouth. Often, root canals are the most effective way of saving a tooth that might otherwise need to be extracted.
If you suspect that you may need a root canal, there’s no need to be nervous about the procedure. Do root canals hurt? We can answer that question easily: root canals are virtually painless, as is the case with all other dental procedures. Thanks to advancements in dental technology, as well as dental anesthetics and sedation methods, most patients feel little or no discomfort whatsoever while have a procedure performed in the dentist’s chair. To find out more about root canals, call your dentist today to schedule an appointment.