Des Moines Root Canals

Root Canal Treatment Q & A

The goal of a root canal is to preserve your natural tooth.  Root canal treatment is performed on a tooth that has suffered large and deep decay or is chronically painful.

What is root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment (also called root canal therapy or RCT) is a procedure that is performed to remove decay and damaged tissue located inside your tooth.   Inside your tooth’s hard outer shell is a nourishing pulp of blood vessels, lymph vessels, and nerves.  The root canals contain these structures, which keeps your tooth alive and healthy.

When decay infects the pulp, there is irreversible damage and the only way to save your tooth is by removing the infected blood and lymph vessels and nerves and sealing the canal space to prevent widespread infection; this is what is known as a root canal treatment.  In some root canal treatments, the root itself is removed to prevent the spread of infection and preserve the natural tooth.

Why do I need a root canal?

The following are the most common factors contributing to a need for root canal treatment:

  • Trauma, such as a physical blow or a constant striking of your tooth in the opposite jaw, resulting in damage.
  • Physical irritation caused by deep decay or very large filling.
  • Spontaneous pain or throbbing while biting.
  • Lingering sensitivity to hot and cold foods.
  • Abscess in the bone.

How is a root canal performed?

Once you and your dentist has determined a root canal is the best option for you, the first step is to get your tooth numb and you comfortable.  Your tooth will be isolated with a rubber dam, which confines the treatment area and protects you from bacteria and chemical agents.  An access opening is made through your tooth into the pulp space.  Next, your dentist will carefully remove the disease pulp tissue.  The root canal area inside your tooth is cleaned and enlarged to take a filling material, which seals your tooth from further entry of bacteria.  If the root canal was performed on a chewing tooth, then a crown may be necessary to prevent your tooth from breaking.  During the root canal treatment, multiple x-rays are taken to help guide your dentist where to use his instruments.

How will I feel and what care follows the root canal treatment?

Once the root canal is complete, there may be some residual soreness after the anesthetic wears off. Discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice packs to help resolve any minor swelling that can occur.  Once the root canal treatment has been completed, you should consider the following:

Brittleness—Your root canal treated tooth becomes non-vital because there is no longer a nutrient supply; therefore, your tooth becomes more brittle than a vital one making it more susceptible to fracture.  This is one reason why your dentist will recommend crowning your chewing teeth following root canal treatment.

Discoloration—You may notice that your root canal treated tooth (especially a front tooth) has changed in color.  The discoloration is of no medical concern.  There are a couple of ways to address this discoloration if there is an aesthetic concern.  One way is to have your tooth whitened.  The other way is to place a crown on your tooth.

Are root canals better than extractions?

Our goal is to preserve your natural tooth.  In most situations, it is better to keep your natural tooth rather than having it pulled for a couple of reasons.  By keeping your natural tooth, you avoid chewing and biting problems that can cause uneven tooth wear.   Losing a tooth can make it harder for you to clean areas of other teeth therefore increasing the risk of decay and additional tooth loss. Furthermore, keeping your tooth means you do not have to go through the phase of adjusting to a partial denture or bridge—there is no substitute for your natural teeth!

A final word from Dr. Trung Phan:

Throughout your root canal procedure, you may have questions that are not covered above.  We will make sure to answer all of your questions and make sure you are comfortable during your root canal treatment.  We love getting questions from our patients!  Our goal is to help you preserve your natural teeth for a lifetime, because your smile is your best asset!