Root canals save damaged teeth.

Over the years, you have likely heard the term “root canal” thrown around a few times by friends or family. Even if you don’t know what a root canal procedure is, you probably know that it has a bad reputation. This reputation has its roots in historical dental treatments, but nowadays there’s nothing to fear from a root canal. While you never want to need the procedure, it’s often the only way to save the root structure of your natural tooth. Since losing a tooth can lead to expensive tooth replacement treatments and bone loss in your jaw over time, it’s always ideal to save your natural tooth if you can. If you’re hoping to learn more about how root canals save teeth and what it’s like to get one, we’ve put together an explanation below.

How does a root canal save my tooth?

In order to understand how root canals save your natural tooth, you need a basic understanding of the anatomy of your teeth. Each of your teeth is covered in a protective covering of enamel, followed by a layer of yellow dentin and a soft core called pulp. You need a root canal when decay or infection reaches the pulp of your tooth, which contains blood vessels, connective tissues, and nerves. During a root canal, Dr. Horton removes the pulp of your tooth and thoroughly cleans its interior to remove all signs of bacteria. This removes the source of your pain and stops the bacteria in its tracks, preventing you from developing worsening infections and preserving your natural tooth structure.

What happens to my tooth after the root canal?

The nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels in the pulp of your tooth serve several major functions, including nourishing the tooth and enabling it to experience sensations such as temperature, pressure, and pain. Teeth that have undergone root canals often become brittle and are at a high risk of chipping, cracking, or breaking. Your tooth will need to be fitted with a permanent dental crown to protect it from further damage and to restore its function and appearance. Once the procedure is complete, your tooth will look and feel as good as new.

How do I know if I need a root canal?

Generally, cavities don’t hurt until they reach the nerves in your tooth, so if you’re experiencing a prolonged and severe toothache, you likely need a root canal. Other signs include pain when you chew or apply pressure to the tooth, sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures that lasts for an extended period of time, swollen or tender gums, or the tooth itself darkening in color. At the first sign of any of these symptoms, you should call Dr. Horton to make an appointment; even if you don’t need a root canal, you likely need treatment for a different issue—and putting it off almost guarantees that you’ll end up needing a more invasive treatment later on.

What is the procedure like?

Root canal procedures take a couple of appointments. Dr. Horton will begin your first appointment by numbing your tooth before drilling into it, removing the decayed pulp, and cleaning the inside of the tooth to remove all traces of bacteria and debris. Then she’ll seal the tooth and prepare it for a crown, shaving away portions of your natural tooth so that the crown can fit over it. She’ll take impressions of your tooth and send them to the outside lab that will make your permanent crown. This will take several weeks, so Dr. Horton will also use the impressions to make a temporary crown, which she’ll place on your tooth immediately. When your permanent crown is ready, you’ll be able to come in for your second appointment, during which Dr. Horton will numb your tooth, place your permanent crown, and check your bite to ensure it fits perfectly.

Are root canals scary or painful?

Root canals make many patients nervous because they don’t know what to expect or are concerned that the procedure will be painful, but root canals really aren’t anything to worry about. Thanks to modern anesthesia, the experience itself really isn’t that different from getting a cavity filled—and it’s certainly no more painful. While you shouldn’t experience any pain during the procedure itself, you will feel sore once the localized anesthetic wears off. This mild pain should last about three days and can be easily managed with over-the-counter pain medications and ice packs. You should also avoid irritating the area by eating soft foods and chewing on the opposite side of your mouth. The discomfort is minimal enough, however, that you should be able to go back to work or school the same day you have your root canal.

Can I prevent a root canal?

Yes. The best way to prevent a root canal is by taking great care of your teeth through good oral hygiene. You should brush your teeth for two minutes twice a day, floss and use mouthwash at least once a day, and visit Dr. Horton for an evaluation every six months. This will help prevent cavities from forming in the first place and will ensure that Dr. Horton can spot any cavities that do form early—before they become major enough that you’ll need a root canal. Regular dental appointments are also important because bacteria can slip in and cause decay under a filling or restoration that has cracked or failed. This can be difficult to notice at home and can give bacteria easy access to your tooth’s pulp, so it’s important to visit Dr. Horton regularly so that she can catch failing restorations early.

How much will my root canal cost?

It’s difficult to estimate the exact cost of a root canal because they can vary greatly; some teeth, such as molars, are more difficult to treat and carry a higher fee. Since root canals are medically necessary procedures, however, your dental insurance should help pay for your root canal and crown. How much your insurance covers depends upon your individual plan, but it can greatly reduce your out-of-pocket expenses. The best way for you to predict the cost of your root canal is to come in for a consultation, during which Dr. Horton can estimate the cost of your root canal and how much your insurance is likely to pay.

Modern anesthetics and techniques have ensured that root canals are safe, painless procedures that protect the health and function of your teeth by allowing you to keep as much of your natural tooth structure as possible. So while you should do your best to ensure that you don’t end up needing a root canal, it’s certainly a good thing that the procedure is an option! If you’re experiencing a toothache, extreme tooth sensitivity, or notice any other concerning symptoms, be sure to call our office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Horton right away.