Understanding What a Root Canal Is and Why Your Dentist Could Recommend One

| 7 min read

Root canal.

Hearing those words from a dentist can cause you to panic or go into avoidance mode.

Whatever your reaction, it confirms the need to understand what a root canal is and why a dentist might recommend a root canal.

Clearing-the-air about root canals

Bad “press” has surrounded root canals for many years. Actually much of the negative information you might have heard about the procedure has been discredited.

Before sharing what a root canal is, let’s explore a few of the common “myths” or misconceptions about them.

Myth: A root canal is painful

Truth: The pain you feel isn’t from the procedure. It’s typically caused by the infection within your tooth root.

Myth: There’s no pain following a root canal because the root is gone

Truth: You could still experience pain in your treated tooth but you won’t feel painful sensitivity to hot, cold, or when eating or drinking.

Myth: A root canal removes the tooth roots and potentially the entire tooth

Truth: A root canal is about saving your tooth not removing or altering it. The procedure cleans and restores your tooth root.

There are more “myths” and misunderstandings about root canal treatment. Once you understand the treatment you can put many if not most of them to rest.

What is root canal therapy?

The procedure itself describes the primary focus on the area of your tooth that’s being treated - your tooth root.

Think of each tooth as a connected structure of tissue, nerves, and pulp (spongy area of blood vessels). The pulp area of your tooth is susceptible to infection.

When your pulp becomes infected you will likely feel pain. If you avoid treatment, an abscess can form.

Root canal therapy repairs and restores your tooth pulp that’s become infected or decayed.

During a root canal procedure your dentist will:

  • Provide local anesthesia to the treatment area so you will not experience any pain
  • Remove the infected pulp
  • Gently clean the root area and tooth structure
  • Fill the root with a substance that seals and protects it
  • Place a temporary filling or dental crown on the treated tooth

It’s common for root canal treatment to involve at least two dental visits.

  • Visit 1 includes a preparatory examination and x-rays, the root canal procedure, and placement of a temporary filling or crown.
  • Visit 2 involves removal of the temporary filling or crown, placement of your permanent filling or crown, and post-procedure x-rays to assure treatment success.

Why do you need a root canal?

Root canal therapy is intended to treat decay and infection that is impacting your tooth’s pulp. A variety of conditions could cause your dentist to recommend a root canal.

  • Your tooth is cracked, fractured, or broken.
  • You have a cavity that penetrates deep into your tooth.
  • You have fillings or crowns that are no longer protecting your tooth structure.

Infection within the pulp of your tooth can cause painful symptoms that a root canal is designed to treat:

  • Sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Tooth or mouth pain that persists
  • Discoloration on your tooth
  • Swollen gums
  • A tooth that is chipped or cracked
  • Feeling pain when you chew or when your tooth is touched
  • Facial swelling
  • A lost tooth or a tooth that is loose

Keep in mind that your reason for a root canal can vary. Now that you know the basic details about the procedure you can feel more confident when your dentist recommends a root canal.

And remember that a second opinion is also available if you have further questions about your oral health condition or the details of a root canal.

Dental.com provides an easy and informative second opinion solution

  • Transparent consultations
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  • Connection to in-person dental care with dentists in your zip code

The following resources provide more information about virtual dental care:

So, What Happens During a Virtual Dental Visit (and What are the Benefits)?

Common Reasons to Seek a Dental Second Opinion

The More You Know About Routine Dental Treatment, Restorative Dental Treatment, and Second Opinions - the Better

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