Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
Endodontic therapy, also known as a root canal treatment, is a process that makes it possible to save a damaged tooth. This particular procedure focuses on removing the tooth pulp that has become infected and seeking to ensure no remaining infection is present. The tooth is then sealed with the use of a filling. It’s not unusual for a dentist to also install a crown.
If your dentist is recommending a root canal, it’s because something is wrong with the pulp but the professional believes it would be better to make repairs than to extract the tooth. Before you agree to the procedure, it’s smart to ask some questions and listen closely to the answers. Here are some examples of what to include on that list.
What causes you to need a root canal?
Damage to the tooth pulp is the most common reason to undergo a root canal. These types of root canal causes may have to do with an infection that has set up in the pulp. At other times, there may be tooth decay that has penetrated through the enamel and dentin, and now has begun to break down the pulp.
Opting for a root canal helps to stop the decay from doing more damage. When an infection is present, the procedure also prevents the infection from spreading to the gums and possibly to other parts of the body. It also minimizes the risk of damage to the surrounding teeth.
Can a root canal heal itself?
Is it possible for the root canal holding the pulp to heal without undergoing a procedure? Some would say yes, if the problem happens to be an infection and it’s possible to eliminate it. Be aware that the chances of this type of healing to occur are rare. In most cases, choosing to have the root canal procedure is the most efficient and healthy solution.
What Happens if You Don’t Get a Root Canal?
As the patient, you have the final say in what sort of dental treatments you receive and which ones you don’t. While you can decide against having a root canal, be aware that there will be further complications that develop in most cases.
One alternative to undergoing a root canal is to have the dentist extract the tooth. This can be more difficult if the tooth is not sufficiently loose. Assuming that the tooth happens to be one of the back molars, there’s also some potential that the root could be slightly curled at the end, making the extraction more of a risk. A dentist can use X-rays to determine if the root is angled in any way and advise you of the possible complications associated with the extraction.
What happens if you leave root canal untreated? If you decide to not have the root canal and do not authorize an extraction, the decay and infection will progress. You are likely to experience more pain in the future, even if you didn’t have much up to this point. There is also the risk of the infection spreading to the gum. In the end, you may have to undergo more comprehensive treatments in order to deal with all the ramifications that come with a severe oral infection.
What Happens if You Do?
If you do have the root canal, you accomplish quite a bit. Getting rid of pain is one of the first benefits that you will enjoy. If you’ve had any amount of discomfort prior to the procedure, it will be gone once the recovery period is completed.
With the infected pulp gone, there is no opportunity for the infection to spread to the gum tissue. In this sense, you minimize the potential for problems with your gums. Since the infection could easily spread from the gums to other areas of the body, you also protect your health in general.
Keep in mind oral infections can create complications with a number of viral organs. Problems with the heart are a good example. The infection can also weaken your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off all sorts of health risks. Choosing to have the root canal treatment is an investment in your total physical well-being.
How Do I Get Ready for a Root Canal Treatment?
Your first order of business is to go over all your existing health issues with the dental team. That includes chronic conditions like diabetes or a heart condition. The presence of other issues will have some impact on how the dentist manages the root canal.
It’s also important to go over all your medications and other products you take daily. This allows the dental team to determine if any of them could complicate the procedure in some way. If go, you may be advised to stop taking those products a day or two before your procedure, and not resume taking them for a day or two after the root canal is done.
Arrange for someone to transport you to and from the root canal treatment. Since sedation is used during the procedure, you will be too groggy to handle any type of driving. In fact, the dental team will not perform the procedure until they verify you have someone on hand to make sure you return home safely.
Along with doing the driving, the person who accompanies you will be given instructions for your care over the next couple of days. You will likely be present and somewhat awake during that time. Owing to the effects of the sedation, you may not remember all the instructions later. Between the person who accompanied you and the hard copy of the instructions, you will know what to do once the sedation wears off.
How painful is a root canal treatment?
Thanks to the use of sedation, you will not feel any pain during the actual root canal treatment steps. As the sedation wears off, you may begin to feel some amount of pain. Typically, the dentist provides a prescription that you can take to ease the discomfort. You’ll notice that the pain begins to subside by the following day. In some cases, patients find that using a recommended over the counter pain reliever is sufficient.
What Will the Rest of My Day Be Like?
Don’t make plans for doing any task that requires concentration. You should rest, keep your head elevated, and avoid any type of lifting. Even if you like to work out, exercise is off the table for a few days. You can consume soft foods; it’s often recommended to use the opposite side of the mouth for any type of chewing necessary.
How About Complications? Why is a Root Canal Dangerous for Some?
There are more risks of root canal treatment side effects for patients with certain types of health issues. That’s one of the reasons why you should make sure your dentist knows about all issues you are currently managing. If your dentist knows you are a type 1 or type 2 diabetic, certain precautions are taken in addition to the basic root canal treatment steps. The same is true for a heart condition, emotional illnesses like anxiety and depression, and other ailments.
Your recovery will also be a little different in comparison to someone who does not have an ongoing medical condition. The goal is to make sure that everything from the approved diet to the resumption of your medication will not trigger issues like excessive bleeding.
In this sense, you could say that a root canal is more dangerous for some people than for others. That risk is minimized by taking the proper precautions before, during, and after the procedure.
Are There Activities That I Should Avoid For a Few Days Afterward?
You will remain on soft foods for a short period of time. Keep in mind that you can puree a number of foods to add more variety to your diet. That will also ensure you take in the nutrients needed to support your quick recovery.
Working out is something to avoid for a few days. Even after that, you want to ease back into the routine. Begin with basic exercises and avoid lifting weights or engaging in resistance exercises. Keep it basic by walking or biking, or doing simple exercises that are approved by the dental team.
Can I Afford a Root Canal Treatment?
Most dental plans will cover most of the cost associate with a root canal and crown. Check with the provider for specific details. That will help you know how much of the root canal treatment cost must be paid out of pocket. If you can’t pay that amount in full right now, see if you can make payment arrangements with the dental office. You can also look into the possibility of opening a revolving account that allows you to pay the clinic in full and then pay off the balance a little each month.
Dentists don’t recommend root canals without good reason. Listen closely to the reason for the recommendation and feel free to ask about treatment alternatives. Once you are more informed on the subject, it will be easier to make the choice that’s right for you.
Andrea Galick is an accomplished Dental Hygienist (RDH) with a passion for helping patients achieve optimal oral health. Andrea has built a reputation as a caring and skilled practitioner who puts her patients at ease and provides individualized care that meets their unique needs.