At one point in any person’s life, he has been subjected to the pain caused by tooth decay. The experience has made it necessary to visit the dentist regularly. One does this to avoid complications that may arise because of tooth decay. During the early stages, the disease can still be reversed. If the decay has only touched the crown, regular filling procedures could be applied. In more severe cases, a person would commonly have a root canal treatment.
The hardest substance found in the human body is enamel. This covers the outer surfaces of our teeth. Although extremely hard, this substance can still deteriorate. It can be destroyed when oral hygiene is neglected. Without proper oral care, a sticky layer of bacteria may start to form. It coats the teeth. This layeris called plaque, and it will start to build-up. The bacteria in plaque will produce acids. These acids corrode the enamel, and this will eventually expose the bone found underneath. Damage to the underlying tissue, especially the nerve endings found there will result in tooth decay and the dreaded toothache. As a preventive measure, the enamel can be naturally repaired by minerals found in saliva. It can also be repaired by the fluoride found in toothpaste. People should shun excessive intake of foods and beverages that contain sugars. These serve as fuel for the bacteria’s acid production.
For worse case scenarios where the tooth has already decayed very badly or has become infected, a dentist needs to intervene. He will most likely recommend root canal treatment. If such scenarios were to remain untreated, the consequences would be aninfection of the surrounding tissues and the formation of painful abscesses.
What Is a Root Canal?
To understand what “root canal treatment” is, a brief study of the tooth’s structure is required. Take a common tooth. We know that the outer coat of the tooth is the crown which is made up enamel. At the middle of a tooth is a natural cavity where you find the nerves and a pulp area. The nerves allow the teeth to feel a variety of sensations, such as heat and cold. Surprisingly, even without these nerves, the tooth can still function.
A root canal will involve the drilling of the tooth. This is done to access the natural cavity and removing the nerves and pulp within. After this procedure, the insides of the tooth are scraped clean. Then the tooth is sealed to keep it protected. The dentist extracts the pulp to prevent the proliferation of bacteria that can cause further damage to the tooth which is infected. Allowing the pulp to remain in the cavity can cause pus to develop, which will cause swelling and bone loss.
A tooth subjected to a root canal procedure becomes a dead tooth. It can no longer experience sensations because the nerves have been removed. The root canal treatment is meant to preserve a dead tooth and not to save it. Bear in mind that when a root canal is recommended, the tooth involved is infected and is already “dying.” The treatment is the last recourse to preserve the tooth. Removing the nerves inside the cavity is like removing the “life” out of the tooth, and that qualifies it as “dead.” By analogy, the root canal procedure is like amputating a gangrene-infected leg. Both are getting rid of infected tissue to save the rest of the body from further damage.
But why retain the tooth inside the mouth when it is already “dead”? Root canal treatment is a simpler and cheaper procedure when dealing with a decayed tooth. Although the “root canaled” tooth is considered a “dead” tooth, it will still maintain its functions. One can still use it for chewing food and assisting in speaking properly. It will also prevent the movement of the other teeth toward the space occupied by the decayed tooth if extracted.
A root canal treatment has its downside. After removing the pulp and nerves from the cavity, scraping the insides of the cavity is required to rid the tooth of any more decay. This will result in the thinning of the tooth’s walls, making it brittle, dry and susceptible to breaking. Installing a crown will solve this problem. This is a stiffcovering which is much tougherthan enamel. It will protect the tooth from the tissues inside it have been removed. The crown will preserve the tooth’s structural integrity, preventing it from breakage.
There is a new procedure now which involves implants. When a decaying tooth is pulled out, the root leaves a hole in the jawbone. The implant, an artificial tooth, will be inserted to fill that hole and will function as a replacement for the pulled tooth. This is a new school of thought in dentistry. Of course, this procedure will be more expensive.
Root Canal or Tooth Implant?
Root canal or an implant? This decision will have to be made after consulting with a dentist. For sure, both options will have their advantages and disadvantages. Your decision may involve persons other than a dentist. With an endodontist, a root canal procedure will be recommended. Because that is an endodontist field of expertise – dealing with the tooth’s pulp or soft tissues. An oral surgeon may give you an implant recommendation because this will need some minor surgery. As you would expect, each doctor will involve a certain degree of inherent biases.
The Root Canal Procedure
When a root canal is recommended, this would mean that the tooth has badly decayed. Depending on the severity, a dentist or an endodontist may be performing the procedure. An endodontist is still a tooth doctor who specializes in injuries and diseases of the nerves or dental pulp. A dentist, after examinations, will recommend if you will need the services of a specialist.
Root canal works will entail several visits to a dentist. Here are some steps one must do:
Get an x-ray. The X-ray images taken will help determine the root canal’s shape as well as the progress of the tooth’s condition. Further damage, if any, to the surrounding tissues caused by infection will also be revealed by the x-ray.
Application of anesthesia to the area surrounding the decayed tooth. The dentist will always want the patient to feel relaxed during the procedure. Any pain will be numbed by the application of the anesthesia. A rubber dam is used to manage the presence and amount of saliva surrounding the tooth during the procedure.
Drilling of the tooth. This will provide a hole for the dentist to access where the decayed nerve tissues, the pulp, and the bacteria are extracted. Root canal files of escalating diameters are used. They gradually scrub the interiors of the tooth cavity until thoroughly cleaned. Either sodium hypochlorite or water is used to wash out any debris in the mouth.
Sealing the hole. The tooth will then be sealed after it has been cleaned thoroughly. Depending on the severity of the tooth’s condition, the doctor may seal process the tooth immediately. Either that or the doctor may allow some time for recuperation. In the latter case, a temporary sealant is applied to prevent any debris from entering. Medication inside the tooth will be applied if the tooth is infected.
If an immediate filling should take place, the dentist will be filling the access hole created during the operation. He will use a sealant paste and a rubber compound. The dentist may also recommend a crown, to restore the tooth to its natural appearance and functions. This will also strengthen the tooth, preventing it from breakages as a result of the scraping process.
Contrary to some related bad experiences regarding root canal treatments, the process is not that painful. It may take longer, but the experience is compared to an ordinary tooth filling. Furthermore, root canals are very reliable.These procedures have a success rate of more than 95% and most of them can last fora lifetime.
When to Consider Getting a Root Canal
There should be several important factors to consider if a person decides to have a root canal. Getting one without the proper consultations could be disastrous. To avoid this, go to an experienced dental practitioner for the right advise. A good dentist will first establish if the pulp within the tooth is dying, already dead or if there is a possibility of recovery. Here are determining factors a dentist uses to determine if a root canal is needed:
If a person has abscesses. These are essentially holes in the jawbone caused by a tooth infection. When a tooth decays, it causes infection which starts at the inner tip of the tooth. All dead tissue caused by the infection start spilling from here, and since bone will not grow around an infection, an abscess is formed. This hole (abscess) can easily be detected in an x-ray photograph.
If a person has a fistula in the gum. A fistula is a small pimple-like eruption that appears in the gums.It can be yellow, white or red.This is usually an indication of an infection in the body. The fistula contains blood, pus, and other infectious components. These components are trying to come out, so the body is getting rid of them through fistulas. It may cause a problem with your dentist because a fistula may not necessarily occur alongside the infected tooth.
If a person is experiencing lingering pain. A simple test is conducted by the dentist to find out if your tooth is dead or dying or if there is a potential for its recovery. Just drinking some cold water will test the tooth’s sensitivity. If after drinking the cold water and you get a non-lingering pain, then this means that the pulp inside the tooth is still alive with a good potential for recovery. This kind of pain just goes away after a short time. On the other hand, if the pain lingers for the next hour or so, then you have symptoms of pulpitis or infection of the pulp. This means that the tooth can no longer recover and that the nerve is most likely dead.
If a person is experiencing positional pain. When the pain for a decaying tooth gets worse when lying down or when suddenly standing up or when running in place, this can be an indication of an abscess and likely, a dead tooth.
If a person is experiencing referred pain. The presence of an abscess is usually characterized not by just a toothache but also pains in other parts of the body, like the jaw or the surrounding teeth. Dentists usually ask questions about these pains to determine the presence or absence of an abscess.
If a person is experiencing spontaneous pain. When drinking something hot or cold and you feel some pain, this means that the pulpitis (infection of the pulp) is reversible. However, when you get a wave of tooth pain even without some stimulus, then it is most likely a dead tooth.
How Long to Wait Before Getting a Root Canal
When the tooth has decayed, it is imperative that one get some root canal work. Do not wait longer as it would bring terrible discomfort and pain when the tooth is subjected to pressure. Furthermore, it will lead to swelling of the gums; it will cause some unpleasant taste in the mouth. It may even cause numbness in the mouth. Prolonged infections could spread to other exposed tissues, like those in your heart. Teeth infections have caused the death of many people in the past.
When an infection has occurred, the infected tooth cannot be subjected to the root canal treatment. The dentist usually will prescribe antibiotics for any infection before the root canal work is done. Do not delay going through the treatment when a tooth is decaying. Do this to avoid the consequences.
What Do You Do After Your Root Canal Procedure?
One would feel some level of discomfort after a root canal procedure. The tooth becomes very sensitive which is caused by inflamed tissue. But this is expected. The dentist may recommend some pain relievers to address this issue. You need to practice some caution for several days before you can return to your normal daily routines. For starters, avoid unnecessary strain on the tooth by refraining from chewing tough foods. Return to the daily oral hygiene plan of brushing, flossing and using antiseptic mouthwash to keep those germs away. Again, always visit the dentist regularly to ensure the teeth are always in the best condition.
Root canal treatment is a successful procedure, and the tooth can last a lifetime. It saves the tooth from being pulled out. But despite this procedure, it’s always wise to follow the adage; prevention is always better than the cure. Just keep brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash. This is the surest way to avoid tooth decay and consequently, a root canal treatment.
Never subject the restored tooth to unnecessary strain by chewing tough foods. At this point, the tooth is still fragile and can easily fracture. Follow the dentist’s instruction until the tooth is fully restored.
Endodontically treated teeth can even last longer than natural ones. On some occasions, the treated tooth may become painful, some years after successful treatment. Redoing endodontic procedures can still save the tooth.