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How do you know if you need a root canal? and Other FAQs

Over time, dental decay and other damage can soften and break through the tooth’s sturdy, superior layers (enamel and dentin). Deep inside the center of every tooth is an area called the pulp chamber, which houses dental pulp (often called the root of the tooth). The pulp contains inner dental nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels. When bacteria infiltrate these weak points in the tooth, the infection can spread to the tooth root and causes severe pain.

Dentists often perform root canals to save the tooth, eliminate bacteria, and alleviate aches. Before engaging in any medical procedure, it’s crucial to get the facts straight and know what is to come. In this article, we answer the top questions patients ask about root canal therapy.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is an endodontic treatment designed to eradicate bacteria from the infected tooth pulp. Generally speaking, here’s how endodontic surgery works:

  1. Before treatment, the dentist views the remaining structures of the inner tooth via an x-ray to see if a root canal is necessary and can be performed.
  2. If he or she decides that a root canal is the most effective next step, they administer local anesthetic and place a rubber dam over the area to keep it clean and dry.
  3. The dentist produces a tiny opening in the top of the infected teeth and uses specialized tools to remove the damaged pulp tissue.
  4. After the chamber is cleaned and shaped, the dentist seals the tooth to prevent reinfection.
  5. Eventually, patients must return to their dentist for a crown to protect and restore function to the treated tooth.

How do you know if you need a root canal?

Patients generally need root canal treatment when they notice sharp tooth pain when chewing or temperature sensitivity. A few other signs that mean you may need a root canal include:

  • Persistent pain or a dull ache
  • Swollen, tender, or darkened gums
  • Pimples or abscesses on the soft tissue
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth due to an erupted abscess
  • A chipped or cracked tooth
  • Deep decay

Also, when patients experience repeated dental procedures (such as multiple fillings to the same teeth), they may require a root canal at some point.

Does a root canal hurt?

In the right hands, this treatment can be quick and comfortable. Before the procedure, dentists numb the affected area with local anesthesia, so the procedure itself isn’t more painful than other standard dental procedures (such as getting a filling or removing wisdom teeth).

However, patients may feel a mild to moderate soreness for a few days following the procedure. For this reason, the dentist may prescribe pain medication to help manage pain.

Root Canal vs. Extraction: When are they necessary?

When people have a severely infected or damaged tooth, dentists typically choose between two treatment options: a root canal procedure or tooth extraction. Most dentists agree that saving natural teeth when possible is the best option and would instead choose the low-risk, typically less expensive, and conservative choice, which is a root canal.

Root canals can save the natural tooth and tooth’s root, which helps:

  • Sustain natural chewing forces
  • Maintain face shape
  • Balance the jaw to prevent TMJ issues

Learn More About Root Canal Therapy in Rio Rancho, NM

If you are experiencing extreme dental discomfort or have an untreated cavity, a root canal could save your natural tooth from extraction. Our Rio Rancho Smiles Family Dental dentists can provide medical advice. Schedule a consultation or emergency dental appointment with one of our caring, proactive dentists by calling (505) 994-9693 or messaging us online right now.


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