Root Canals Get a Bad Rap
Question: “Dr. Arnold, I have a toothache, and my dentist tells me that I need a root canal. Won’t that just cause me more pain than I already have?”
Answer: Unfortunately, that is a very common misconception, as many people mistakenly associate the intense pain leading up to a root canal with the procedure itself. In fact, the purpose of root canal therapy is to eliminate pain, and in many cases people experience immediate relief from their pain once local anesthetic is administered. The root canal procedure is, therefore, generally very comfortable.
Teeth are covered by enamel, the hardest structure within the human body. Beneath the enamel layer is the dentin, which is also very hard. The dentin layer surrounds the pulp chamber, where the nerve and blood vessels reside within each tooth. Root canal therapy is generally necessary due to the infection of this nerve. This is usually caused by a deep cavity or fracture into the pulp chamber. Trauma is another factor that can lead to the need for endodontic treatment.
Without endodontic therapy, the infection often spreads down the tip of the root where it can cause an abscess within the jaw bone. This can create pressure within the bone, and has the potential to cause excruciating pain. The symptoms associated with an infected nerve can vary from mild sensitivity to hot and cold, pressure sensitivity, swelling, or constant, intense pain. On the other hand, it is possible to have an abscess with no symptoms at all.
Infections of the nerve will not go away without some type of treatment, generally root canal therapy or removal of the tooth. Antibiotics will sometimes fight the infection, but they will not address or alleviate the source of the infection. Untreated, this type of infection can impact your immune system, thus affecting your entire body. This really underscores the importance of seeing a dentist regularly and having radiographs (x-rays) taken periodically. Often, your dental team can find and address these “silent” problems before they become symptomatic or debilitating.
Root canal therapy should generally be a comfortable, effective treatment to alleviate pain and save teeth. With the amazing technology available to dentists and endodontists, (root canal specialists), including “rotary” instruments, digital radiography, and magnification, this treatment is more comfortable and predictable than ever.
Dr. Jim Arnold is a practicing dentist in Chesterton and Valparaiso. He is also a clinical mentor with the Hornbrook Group and serves on the Advisory Board for the Academy of Comprehensive Esthetics as the Fellowship Chairman. You may send questions to his office at: 1830 South 11th Street, Chesterton, IN 46304 or email them to: drarnold@SmilesByArnold.com. More information on this or many other dental topics can be found at www.SmilesByArnold.com.