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What is a root canal? And do I need one?

Experiencing pain in your tooth or gums, but don’t want to undergo a painful dental procedure? You’re in luck! Contrary to popular belief, root canal therapy is a pretty straightforward treatment.


Experiencing pain in your tooth or gums, but don’t want to undergo a painful dental procedure? You’re in luck! Contrary to popular belief, root canal therapy is a pretty straightforward treatment. It’s not that different to getting a deep filling… and it’s relatively pain-free!

When your dentist recommends a root canal treatment for decayed or damaged teeth, it can relieve the pain and save your natural tooth without extraction.

But what exactly is a root canal? And how do you know if you need one? Let’s break it down…


What is a root canal treatment?


A root canal treatment repairs the inside of a damaged tooth. A hole is drilled gently into the tooth to remove the soft centre, known as dental pulp. (Think of the pulp as the tooth lifeline – made up of blood vessels, connective tissue and nerves.) It’s the pulp that keeps the tooth alive. When damaged, the pulp is removed, and then the hole will be filled and sealed.

But it’s not as scary as you may think! It’s a relatively simple procedure and success rates are high. Around 90-95% of root canals result in a perfectly functional tooth. We like those odds.

A root canal can be done in one visit, or depending on the complexity it may take a couple of visits. Our experienced dentists will be able to advise you how long your specific procedure will take, depending on what needs to be done.

I think my tooth is damaged – Should I get a root canal?

Teeth can become infected or damaged by decay. Wear and tear, cracked fillings and even gum disease can lead to oral care issues. A root canal treatment can save a damaged or infected tooth, but it isn’t necessarily the answer to every instance of tooth pain. So let’s take a look at some specific symptoms to look out for…

Pain when eating or drinking


Do you feel pain when you drink a cup of coffee? Or a tingling sensation when you eat ice cream or drink an icy drink? If your tooth feels sensitive to touch, or tingles when eating or drinking, you could have tooth decay or nerve damage. 

Sensitivity to hot or cold often feels like a dull ache that lasts for an extended period. It can also be more of a sharp or shooting pain in the tooth or gum area. Sometimes the pain will go away after eating, but if it doesn’t and persists, it is best to get it checked by a dentist to see if a root canal treatment may be right for you.

Swollen or tender gums


Gums can often become tender after brushing or flossing, however, this will normally go away on its own. If the gum remains swollen near the painful tooth, this could be a sign of root canal pain. And at this point, it’s best to consult a dentist to see if you’ll need further treatment.


Chipped or cracked tooth


When a tooth becomes chipped or cracked, this could mean one of two things. Trauma on the tooth could have created a chip that has caused the pulp to be inflamed or infected. Or, if the tooth is badly decayed or infected the tooth can crack or chip away. Either way, a root canal treatment can be used to repair the tooth to save it from extraction.


Darkening of gums or discolouration


When the pulp in your tooth becomes infected it can cause discolouration. Your usual pearly whites may appear darker or grey or black in colour. This is an indication that the root could be damaged. Discolouration can be for a variety of reasons. So always see a dentist if you notice a tooth turning a different colour.

Does a root canal hurt?


It’s a common misconception that a root canal procedure is painful. Our compassionate dentists use a local anaesthetic to numb your mouth before treatment begins, so don’t worry you’ll hardly feel anything! 


After the treatment, the infected tooth should now be pain-free! However, your mouth may feel soreness or sensitivity for a few days following the procedure. This is totally normal. Your dentist can recommend over the counter pain medication to help manage the pain.


Ok, so what’s next?

Tooth pain doesn’t always mean you’ll need a root canal. So best to speak with a dentist and discuss the specific symptoms. Think about the times when it hurts the most, is it when laying down or bending over? Is it a dull ache or more of a shooting pain? Make a mental (or physical) note so you can discuss with your dentist.

If you are worried your tooth may be infected, or just want to learn more about what a root canal treatment involves? Contact our team of experienced dentists today! 

Find your nearest practice here.

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