When a Root Canal Goes Bad
Visit an Endodontist, Save a Tooth
Guide to Root Canals
If there's one dental treatment that's gotten a bad wrap over the years, it's root canal therapy. But the rumors about root canals are mostly pulp fiction: They're one of the most common dental treatments around, are no more uncomfortable than fillings and save millions of teeth every year. You might need root canal treatment if you feel pain when you bite down on, push on or touch a tooth, feel sensitivity to hot and cold or break a tooth. These are signs that your tooth's pulp has become infected and needs to be removed and the inside of your tooth needs to be cleaned and sealed. This is a job for an endodontist — the captain of the root canal.
Q: Do root canals hurt?
A: A root canal treatment is designed to eliminate the pain sometimes associated with root canal infection. Root canal therapy itself is not painful; dentists apply dental anesthesia to numb the area so that you should feel little to no discomfort. Advances in root canal technologies, such as laser root canals, can reduce treatment time, swelling and post-op discomfort. If you suffer from dental anxiety and the thought of a root canal makes you nervous, ask your dentist about other sedation options such as nitrous oxide or dental conscious sedation.
Q: Why do I need root canal treatment if I don't feel any pain?
A: The absence of pain is not necessarily an indication that all is well with your teeth. In fact, most teeth that need root canal therapy won't give you pain.
Your dentist or endodontist must examine the tooth pulp, which lies beneath the tooth's surface, in order to determine if root canal therapy is needed.
Q: I have a broken tooth. Does that mean I need root canal treatment?
A: Not necessarily. However, a broken tooth leaves the inner tooth vulnerable to the bacteria that can cause root canal infection. Oftentimes, a toothache or pain signals an infection; other times, you may not feel any discomfort at all. If you have a broken tooth, your best bet is to see a dentist as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis — even if there's no infection now, there could be later.
Q: Why not just get an infected tooth pulled?
A: If possible, it's better to try to keep your natural teeth. Extracting a tooth leaves a gap that can overstress or cause other teeth to shift. Plus, with root canals, you can avoid having to invest in a dental implant or bridge, both of which can be costly.