Journalists use the expression that some things in life can’t be as bad as having “root canal treatment”. This is a very unfortunate and misleading use of this “pain reference” since it instills fear in a lot of people who may require root canal therapy to alleviate them of their pain.
Carefully carried root canal treatment is both predictable and painless with the prime objective of alleviating the patient’s toothache and preventing loss of the tooth.
You have arranged to see a dentist for the first time having had toothache or painful sleepless nights but are unsure of what will happen next. Outlined below is a summary of what you can expect in the process of alleviating your pain.
You will usually have three choices:
1.) Do nothing and probably have further pain and discomfort.
2.) Have the offending tooth extracted and accept the “knock on” consequences of having lost a tooth within your dentition, which can be both functional and aesthetic unless that tooth is replaced.
3.) Have root canal therapy carried out and the offending tooth restored.
The tooth is made up of two main parts; the crown above the gum and the roots below. The root canal lies within root structure and contains the “nerve” or pulp which is made up of nerve tissue and blood vessels. Decay, very large fillings, trauma and extended gum disease can all result in infection within the root canal.
When this is irreversible, treatment is either to remove the tooth or carry out endodontic or root canal treatment. Endodontics is concerned with removing inflamed or infected pulp tissue from the root canal, cleaning and shaping the root canal and then filling it to get a good seal. The crown of the tooth can then be adequately restored to protect it and the root filled tooth continues to function normally within the jawbone.
If left untreated the infection can spread beyond the tooth structure and into the surrounding jaw bone resulting in an “abscess”.
Signs and symptoms to look for are prolonged sensitivity to hot and cold drinks; especially hot. Prolonged and or spontaneous pain. Pain and swelling in the surrounding gum and sometimes tenderness on biting. The pain initially may be difficult to pinpoint and sometimes may move between the upper and lower jaw on the same side of the face.
Your dentist should evaluate the history of the pain and systematically go through a series of tests including taking an x-ray prior to making a diagnosis.
Root canal therapy is usually carried out under local anaesthesia and is usually pain free during treatment. Occasionally there may be some discomfort for a day or two after treatment but this is usually alleviated by pain killing and anti-inflammatory tablets.
The majority of treatments are carried out in a single visit. But occasionally when a root canal is very infected it may be necessary to dress the root canal with some anti-bacterial medicaments for a short while prior to finishing off the treatment.
Experienced general dentists carrying out a root canal treatment would expect excellent long term results. In a minority of occasions when a root canal system is particularly curved or a very aggressive infection present they may refer you to a specialist endodontist to carry out the treatment.
So if you are contemplating having root canal therapy, you now have a clearer view of what is involved and what to expect from an experienced dentist …..so put the myth to the back of your mind and relax.
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