When Would You Need a Root Canal?

Nobody wants a cavity, but they happen millions of times a year for Americans. Tooth decay, which is the name for cavities, is the #1 prevalent disease in Americans according to the National Institutes of Health. When cavities aren’t found promptly with biannual dental exams, they can grow large. They can then affect the nerves of your teeth, necessitating a root canal. This is when a tooth is completely cleaned of infection all the way through the roots of the tooth. Find out how to know if you need a root canal, how to know if you have cavities and what we do for a root canal!

Tooth Decay 101

Tooth decay is a term used to describe the decay of your teeth. You know this term by the name of “cavities”. Studies show that up to 92% of Americans will have tooth decay by the time they reach adulthood. This decay happens without you noticing it, which is how you can have cavities when you visit the dentist even though you don’t notice anything different with your teeth.

Your mouth makes plaque every day after you eat and drink. Sugars in those foods and drink mix with bacteria in your mouth to form a sticky, acidic substance that coats your teeth. If you go look in the mirror right now, you may actually see some of that plaque along your gum line. Eating and drinking is how you get it. Although plaque is small and fairly clear, it’s more harmful than you might think.

If you don’t brush and floss your teeth often enough, you will see changes in your dental health. Plaque’s acidity works to erode your tooth enamel over time, weakening your tough teeth and causing small cracks in the surface. That erosion creates cavities on the surface, and if it gets inside your tooth, you will end up with tooth decay that spreads rapidly.

More severe tooth decay can lead to infections that cause toothaches and facial pain. Subsurface cavities grow towards the center of your tooth, penetrating your tooth layers until they reach the soft-tissue center. This center—called the “pulp” of your tooth has a collection of soft tissue, nerves and blood vessels that nourish your tooth. Once decay reaches the center of your tooth, bacteria will begin to infect the pulp of the tooth causing decay and inflammation, which causes you pain.

What Is A Root Canal?

You never want a surface cavity to turn into an internal cavity. This is because you don’t want your tooth tissues or nerves to decay and die, which will happen if plaque and bacteria get to them. You can’t feel a surface cavity, but you can feel an internal cavity. Often, patients get painful toothaches that don’t go away or they have an abscess form around the tooth. Severe decay will cause pain and intense aching, so you’ll definitely want a root canal if this happens to you.

A root canal is a dental procedure that is past the stage of a dental filling, and about 15 million are done each year on Americans. Root canals fix severe decay that has damaged nerves. A dentist will do the following with your root canal treatment:

  • They will see you for a dental exam and x-rays to see how large the decay is.
  • The dentist will drill into the tooth to remove the infected pulp and nervous tissue inside the tooth, along with bacteria and any debris.
  • Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned and emptied of all pulp tissue through the tooth roots, the tooth will be sealed to prevent bacteria and plaque getting in again.
  • You receive a dental crown after your root canal procedure is done.

Essentially, your tooth is removed of all the bad stuff inside it all the way through the root. Then it is filled up again with material that blocks anything bad from getting in again. We still keep your natural tooth (which is mostly just the outside parts of the tooth and root). Root canals can be harder on the natural teeth, which is why we always prefer to simply fix a cavity instead of having decay get to the point of needing a root canal. However, a root canal can save as much of your tooth root as possible if you have severe decay.

More to Know

It can be tricky to know if you have tooth pain from something simple like your food choices or if you have severe pain. If your pain continues from day-to-day, or it becomes severe, see your dentist ASAP. Don’t wait to see if severe pain will get better, as that pain is an indication that something is wrong.

The first sign of severe decay is typically pain — ranging from acute and intense pangs when biting down, to lingering discomfort after consuming hot or cold foods. You may also get a chronic, dull ache, pressure, or tenderness and swelling in nearby gums. The primary pain may abate as the nerves in the pulp die, but the infection will continue, compromising the affected tooth, jeopardizing the health of the surrounding tissues, and often triggering secondary pain. Infections in the teeth can also spread to the bloodstream, which you want to avoid.

Dental services that perform root canals and dental extractions, along with other dental surgeries, is known as “endodontics”. Endodontic treatment is no more uncomfortable than getting a cavity filled. Both are procedures where you are numb, so you won’t feel the work being done. For a day or two following treatment you may experience temporary sensitivity, which often responds to an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen. Occasionally, prescription medications, including antibiotics, may be needed.

By deciding to get a root canal, you have made the decision to save your tooth instead of losing it completely. To learn more about our root canal procedure, or if you are experiencing tooth pain, call Family & Cosmetic Dentistry of the Rockies at (970) 223-8425!