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Mythbusting Root Canals

January 18, 2011

Often, the response that I get when discussing root canal treatment with patients is negativity and fear.  I find it interesting that the universal reaction is such and have questioned the basis for such visceral reactions. 

I hear questions and comments like:

“Is that surgery” and “are you going to remove the root of my tooth?”

“Can you just pull it.”

“I heard that is painful.”

“How many days will I be laid up?”

“I need to be put to sleep to do that.”

And this one always gets me… “I would rather have a baby!”

I have come up with some possible explanations for these reactions.  First of all, I find that the majority of people don’t really understand what  a root canal is and we tend to fear medical and dental procedures that we really don’t understand.  Secondly, comedians and others in the media tend to make “having a root canal” the brunt of jokes about pain and terrible things that can happen to you.  Additionally, dental problems that necessitate a root canal, namely a toothache and/or an abscess tend to be extremely unpleasant and the treatment tends to get grouped in with the problem, giving them a bad, guilt by association reputation.

So, lets start by saying that a root canal or endodontic therapy is performed on a tooth that has had damage to nerve to the point that it has an irreversible pulpitis (nerve inflammation) or an abscess (infection in the pulp canal and the tissues surrounding the tooth).  The damage may be caused by deep decay in, fractures in, or trauma to a particular tooth.  In rare instances, a tooth may need a root canal for no apparent reason at all.  This shows up  as sensitivity in the tooth to hot, cold or biting pressure or as a frank toothache.  A toothache may be intermittent (may come and go) or it can be continuous.  Sometimes the intermittent toothache is brought on by some sort of stimulus such as eating or drinking something that is either hot or cold.  Regardless, there are a number of tests we can do in the office to determine if a root canal is necessary to solve the problem and which particular tooth is the culprit.

Some facts about root canals are:

With adequate local anesthesia, the procedure itself is usually not uncomfortable at all. 

Root canals, when done properly and followed up with a crown, are very successful with long-term success rates in the high 90 percentile.

In the majority of cases the post-operative discomfort is minimal and limited to temporary tenderness with biting pressure which is easily handled with a non steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as Ibuprofen.   Occasionally stronger pain medications, steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics may be prescribed depending on the nature of the presenting problem.

To learn about the procedure, follow the link below.  It is one the best explanations of the procedure…very accurate, concise and easy to understand.  One thing I might add to this video is that we often use rotary files rather than hand files to clean and shape the canals when possible.

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