Even if you’re the bravest of patients, hearing these two words — root canal — can strike fear in you, especially if you’ve never had one yourself but only heard the dramatic story that your BFF recounted at your last “friends night out.”
A root canal is a fairly common dental procedure, and it can mean the difference between saving your tooth and having it extracted. In fact, according to the American Association of Endodontists, every year dental providers treat and save more than 15 million teeth using a root canal procedure.
Avoiding having to get a tooth pulled sounds pretty good, although we know what you’re probably thinking: “But does a root canal hurt?”
Take a moment as our own expert in root canals, Dr. Meriem Boukadoum at 54th Street Dental, gives you the lowdown on how a typical root canal procedure plays out, and what you can expect during and after the procedure.
Tooth anatomy explained
A great place to start unpacking this discussion is to offer a quick primer on the anatomy of a tooth so you can better understand what happens during the procedure.
Tooth enamel, the hard exterior, is probably the most recognizable part of a tooth. The layer just under the enamel is dentin. Both enamel and dentin protect the innermost part of the tooth, known as the pulp. Pulp is composed of soft tissue where blood vessels and nerves are located.
The fourth major component of a tooth is cementum, which is hard tissue that covers the tooth root and helps anchor it in the jawbone.
Resets and restores the pulp layer
When the outer layers of a tooth are breached due to an injury or a crack, chip or deep cavity, bacteria get an invitation to enter the pulp chamber and create inflammation or develop into an infection.
To clean out the pulp and reset the inner layer, thereby saving the tooth, a dental provider performs a root canal.
As a root canal procedure unfolds, your dentist evaluates the extent of the damage by conducting a thorough examination and taking X-rays. Before getting started, your dental provider administers a local anesthetic to keep you comfortable.
Next, your dentist inserts a dental dam to keep the treatment area free of saliva. Then, using small instruments, he removes the decayed parts of the tooth and any damaged or infected pulp.
Once the pulp chamber is properly cleaned, your dentist uses medication to make sure the tooth is completely dry and free of any possible infection.
Your provider then applies a rubber compound to fill the tooth, followed by a sealing paste. The final step is to install a crown to cap the tooth and strengthen it against further damage.
Then they send you home with post-procedure instructions for proper oral hygiene to prevent pain or infections. You should rinse your mouth with salt water after 24 hours and avoid smoking or eating hard or spicy food.
Minimal discomfort during and after procedure
The thought of getting a root canal may seem a little scary at first. That’s why it’s important to know that when it comes to pain or discomfort, a local anesthetic keeps a root canal procedure from being any more painful than a typical dental procedure like getting a cavity filled or having a crown installed.
During the deep cleaning part of the procedure, you may feel a little pressure on the tooth. Keep in mind those patients who walked into their dentist’s office with a severe toothache caused by an infection or inflammation of the pulp chamber, and then got to walk out without a toothache.
For about a week after a root canal, patients can expect to feel some minor discomfort or soreness, especially if the root canal was triggered by an infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers typically address any discomfort. Any residual discomfort lessens day by day.
If your discomfort doesn’t go away or if it’s accompanied by swelling, contact your dental provider right away; you may need an additional deep cleaning session.
We want you to rest assured that here at 54th Street Dental, our patients’ comfort is job one, whether they’re here for a root canal or a regular checkup.
Our office is equipped with comfortable patient chairs with built-in massage pads, and we offer various aids for oral sensitivity. Patients who are fearful can opt for nitrous oxide or request oral sedation to relax and decrease oral sensitivity during procedures.
If you have a toothache and swelling and think you may need a root canal, call 54th Street Dental today to schedule an appointment. To reach us, use the online booking tool or call our office in the Midtown West neighborhood of New York City at 212-333-3200.