In popular culture, a “root canal” is something that causes extreme pain and the term is often misused to refer to the therapy that cleans out the infected pulp in the roots of a tooth (as in, “I’d rather have a root canal”).
In actuality, when an endodontist (a dentist with advanced training and equipment) does this, the pain the infection has been causing stops. And root canal therapy is one of the most successful of all dental procedures, with 90% eliminating the pain the first time it is done. CITIDental Badawi is one of the few dental practices in the region to have an endodontist as part of the team.
To appreciate the importance of keeping a tooth’s root healthy, let’s review its structure. The outer surface is enamel, the hardest bone in the body, which is yet vulnerable to being cracked in an accident or worn down if you grind you teeth while you sleep. But the main reason for its loss is due to inadequate brushing and flossing, which allows periodontal bacteria to turn bits of food into a sticky film called plaque (which, if not dealt with right away, turns into hardened tartar, which only a dental hygienist can remove with special tools).
Plaque emits an acid that eats away at the enamel and then the next layer of the tooth, the dentin, which is softer than enamel, but protects the pulp, the inner core of blood vessels, tissue, and nerves in the tooth’s canals that go down into the root. If infected, the symptoms are not only general pain in the area that is much more than a cavity’s toothache, but can include pain when you chew or put pressure on the tooth, sensitivity to beverages and foods that are hot or cold, darkening of the tooth, or swelling and redness of the gums around it.
Contrary to popular myth, root canal therapy is virtually pain-free. It starts with a topical numbing and a pinprick injection of an anesthetic. The endodontist uses a microscope and special tools to clean out the infected pulp, sterilize the canals, replace the pulp with a material that will prevent reinfection, and finally seal off the canals. You will receive a prescription for pain-reducing medication afterwards and instructed how to use cold packs to keep the swelling down. Often, a dental crown will be placed over the treated tooth to keep it from fracturing.