Root Canal Explained – It’s Really Not A Big Deal Any Longer

root canal rubber damSo, what’s the big deal about a root canal? There’s a stigma that comes with the words – root canal! Are they painful, do they take forever, what’s the deal with that green rubber dam thing?

Before today’s technology and anesthetics, a root canal were not the most fun things in the world to experience. They took three appointments to complete and often you could still feel pain during the procedure. You had to go to a specialist’s office and sometimes it ended up being an emergency dentist. Let’s shed some light on this very simple procedure of a root canal, that the general public views as mystical and painful.

First, why do I need a root canal? Each tooth in your jaw is alive; each one has its own nerve carrying blood, vitamins and minerals. Teeth can do funny things sometimes. They can break, they can get deep cracks from grinding and clenching (most of us do it in our sleep or due to stress), and they can get cavities and fillings. You could either have just one of these problems or a combination.

Each time a tooth undergoes trauma (cracks, breaks, drilling) or bacterial invasion (that’s what a cavity is) the nerve of the tooth gets stressed. The more stress you put on the nerve, its ability to heal after trauma weakens. These stresses are cumulative throughout its life. There comes a day when the tooth cannot take any more trauma and decides to die: slowly or quickly. This is generally painful. It can come on very suddenly or it can build for weeks or months. This is when you need a root canal. If you wait too long you can develop an abscess.

Root canal and your initial visit

root canal xrayFirst, Dr. Lampee will perform a number of tests. Digital x-rays are standard protocol. From there, he will palpate your jaw, and then he will test the affected area with a bite stick and then tap on the teeth. The final test he generally performs is a cold test to see if the nerve is dead or is dying. From these tests, and also from visually inspecting for cavities and cracks, he can determine if a root canal is indeed necessary.

Now in addition, your tooth generally will need to have two other procedures done to it immediately after the root canal. The tooth will have a large hole in the middle of the biting surface: Dr. Lampee will either place a buildup filling or a post – this makes the tooth whole again. After the root canal, you need a crown.

Teeth after root canals are weak and brittle since they no longer have their blood supply and are hollowed out. The porcelain crown after the root canal acts to reinforce the tooth. It acts like a helmet, protecting it from all the forces of everyday life and preventing future breaks.

So, what can you expect during the root canal procedure?

Dr. Lampee will first get you very numb to make it quite comfortable. He will then place a rubber dam on your teeth. This is a green, stretchy latex barrier that acts to keep out saliva and to keep your tongue and cheeks out of the way. It also prevents you from tasting the solutions we use to clean with during the root canal. If you need any suction underneath the rubber dam just let us know.

Special titanium files are used to clean out the nerve, then a special filling called gutta percha is warmed up to seal the nerve canals – now germ free. Sensitivity upon biting is the most common symptom after the procedure, which can take 1-4 weeks to subside.

root canal diagram

A root canal these days can be done in one appointment in under an hour with very little discomfort – Dr. Lampee really knows how to get those teeth numb! Some really infected teeth sometimes do need two visits to let the infections settle down. There can be times where a root canal takes longer because they have extra nerves (most teeth have from 1-4 nerves), or because the nerves have walled themselves off or because they’re curvy.

Dr. Lampee makes the root canal procedure quick and virtually pain free, and uses the newest materials and techniques to ensure that your tooth will stay healthy and happy for years to come.


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