While brushing and flossing daily will generally provide your teeth and gums the protection they need from harmful bacteria that causes tooth decay and gum disease, practicing poor oral hygiene can lead your teeth to become badly infected or decayed. In instances where the health of a tooth has degraded substantially, you need a root canal to repair and save the tooth.
A root canal procedure becomes necessary when a tooth’s nerve becomes infected or the pulp becomes damaged. During the procedure, the nerve and pulp of a tooth are removed, and the interior tooth cleaned and sealed. Common perception of root canals has the procedure as being incredibly painful. However, most people who undergo a root canal find the procedure no more painful than having a tooth filled. The most painful period experienced is actually the time leading up to the root canal when the tooth is still infected, not the procedure itself.
Why You Need a Root Canal
Underneath the hard outer shell of enamel that covers your teeth lies a soft center area known as the pulp. The pulp contains root canals, which house the nerve of a tooth and travel from the top of a tooth to its base. The pulp also contains a variety of connective tissue and blood vessels that help to nourish the tooth.
When the nerve tissue inside of a tooth’s pulp becomes damaged it begins to deteriorate, allowing bacteria to multiply within the tooth. This bacteria can cause a tooth to become infected or for a dental abscess to form. An abscess occurs when an infection spreads past the roots of a tooth, and results in a pus filled sac that causes extreme discomfort.
Besides causing the development of an abscess, an infected root canal of a tooth can also result in:
- Swelling that can spread to the face, neck, or head
- The deterioration and loss of bone around the root of a tooth
- The formation of a hole in the side of a tooth that causes drainage problems stemming from the root of a tooth.
Fortunately, a tooth’s nerve isn’t important to its health and function once the tooth has fully emerged through the gum line. The only function a tooth’s nerve serves to a developed tooth is to provide the sensation of hot or cold. Whether a tooth still contains its pulp or nerve does not affect its function on a day-to-day basis. By removing the interior of a tooth, a root canal removes all signs of an infection.
Symptoms that Signal a Root Canal is Needed
If you suffer from any of the following symptoms, you might need to undergo a root canal:
- You experience extreme tooth pain when chewing or after applying pressure to the tooth
- Exaggerated pain or sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- A tooth experiences a darkening or discoloration
- Persistent swelling or tenderness of the surrounding gums
- A recurring pimple or sac along the gum line
Occasionally no symptoms will accompany the infection that necessitates a root canal. Even though you might not experience the pain or discomfort caused by an infection, it’s still important that you receive treatment as a tooth infection can spread to other parts of the body.
A health writer, Timothy Lemke learned what to expect from a root canal from Dr. Lance Bailey, a dentist in Portland, Oregon.