Root canal treatment is a simple dental surgery in which the tooth’s inner tissues, known as pulp, are removed from within your tooth roots. Root canals are utilized when a tooth root becomes abscessed. Though this procedure has a long reputation for being unpleasant, advanced anesthetics enable root canals to be performed without discomfort or pain. A root canal can alleviate the pain that you’re encountering due to an abscess or severely decayed tooth.
A general dentist can perform root canals, but if your tooth roots are abnormally shaped, or your condition is severe, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for the procedure. An endodontist is a dental specialist whose focus is on root canal therapy.
Signs of Needing a Root Canal
An abscess occurs when the tooth roots and the tissues surrounding them become infected. A pocket of pus develops as your body sends white blood cells to the infected area to fight off the oral bacteria that are causing the infection. The abscess puts pressure on the nerves running through your tooth root, and it also erodes your tooth tissue. If neglected, an abscessed tooth can lead to tooth loss, and the infection can spread into your jaw bone, blood, or even brain tissue. In rare cases, untreated dental abscesses can even be deadly. Root canal treatment often allows an abscessed tooth to be saved and also prevents these other unwanted consequences of an abscess.
Signs you may have a dental abscess include:
- Pain in or around the tooth. This pain may be sharp and searing or more of a dull ache.
- Extreme sensitivity to hot & cold food and beverages.
- Discomfort on one side of the mouth when you bite or chew.
- Swelling in the lymph nodes to either side of your jaw.
- Fever and the chills.
- The appearance of a pimple-like pus pocket on your gums near the base of a tooth.
Some patients experience all of the symptoms above, while others only experience a few. In rare cases, you may not have any symptoms of a dental abscess, but your dentist may, in fact, detect one in its early stages during a dental exam. If you do experience the symptoms mentioned above or your dentist suspects you may have an abscess, he or she will take x-rays of your jaw to locate and confirm the abscess, and also measure its extent.
Root Canal Procedure Time
Once your dentist has taken x-rays of your tooth and has had the chance to evaluate them, he or she will schedule you for a root canal treatment. You may be asked to take antibiotics for several days before the procedure. The antibiotics will help your body fight off the infection, making the anesthetics used before the root canal more effective and also reducing your pain in the days leading up to the treatment.
When you arrive for your root canal, your dentist will begin by injecting a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine, into the nerve near the abscessed tooth. Within a few minutes, the area will go numb. Then, your dentist may apply a sheet of foam or plastic over the tooth in order to isolate it from the other teeth. He or she may also place some cotton rolls in your mouth to absorb saliva and keep the work area dry.
Your dentist will now use a drill to form an opening in the center of your tooth. You may feel some vibrations, just as you would when having a cavity filled, but you should not feel any pain. If you do feel a tinge of discomfort, let your dentist know; he or she can administer additional anesthetic to keep you comfortable.
The access hole will be made deep enough to allow your dentist to access the soft tissues within the roots of your tooth. Once this depth is achieved, your dentist will use special tools to scrape and remove the tooth pulp from the roots. Then, a sanitizing solution will be used to kill any lingering bacteria. Finally, your dentist will use a rubber-like material to fill the now-empty tooth roots. The access hole will then be filled with composite resin or metal amalgam, much like a cavity would be filled.
Usually, once a root canal is complete, your dentist will cover your tooth with a temporary crown. You’ll return for a second appointment a week or two later to have a permanent crown put in place. This crown will protect your weakened tooth from cracks, additional decay, and other types of damage.
What to Expect After a Root Canal
Recovering from a root canal is simple. If you have a temporary crown in place, you will need to avoid eating overly sticky or crunchy foods until you have the permanent crown put into place. You should not feel any overt pain during recovery. Some people have some slight sensitivity to heat or cold, which may occur in the teeth surrounding the tooth that was treated. This will go away within a week or two; using sensitivity toothpaste can help. You may need to continue to take antibiotics for several days after a root canal. This medication will help your body fight off any bacteria remaining in the gum and bone tissues surrounding the tooth. Make sure you take the antibiotics for as long as your dentist recommends, even if your pain subsides long before they are gone.
You care for a tooth that has been treated with a root canal just as you would care for any other tooth. Brush and floss around it daily, and attend your regular dental checkups. Your dentist will take x-rays regularly to ensure the tooth underneath the crown is still in good shape. Many people can keep a tooth that has been treated with a root canal in their mouths for the rest of their lives. However, if additional decay appears, you might need to have the tooth extracted and replaced with an implant.
Preventing Future Root Canal Procedures
Abscesses that lead to a need for root canal treatment often begin as tooth decay or gum disease. The same oral bacteria cause tooth decay, gum disease, and dental abscesses. Strict oral hygiene can decrease the risk of all three problems. Some measures to prevent the need for future root canals include:
Thorough Brushing and Tooth Flossing Habits
Proper brushing and flossing habits keep bacteria at bay, helping to prevent decay and gum disease that could later lead to an abscess. Be sure to thoroughly clean your teeth at least twice a day for at least two minutes, using a soft toothbrush and anti-cavity toothpaste. Make sure you floss daily, being careful to make a complete “c” around both sides of each tooth. Try packing floss in your car or purse so you can floss on-the-go if you forget to do so at home.
Routine Dental Exams
Be vigilant in visiting your dentist for regular checkups twice a year, or as recommended by your dentist. This ensures that if you do develop any gum disease or tooth decay, it is detected early on when it can be addressed with better oral hygiene or fillings before an abscess develops.
If you do detect any indications of gum disease or tooth decay, visit your dentist for treatment promptly. The longer these conditions are allowed to progress unaddressed, the higher the chances you’ll develop an abscess. Signs of cavities include lingering bad breath, sensitivity to heat, cold, and pressure, a black or brown spot on the tooth, and aching tooth pain. Signs of gum disease include redness in the gums, increased gum sensitivity, bleeding after brushing or flossing, and pockets forming between the gums and teeth.
Cost of a Root Canal at a Dentist Near Me
The total cost for a root canal treatment will depend on the economy in your local area, which tooth needs to be treated, and whether you require treatment by a general dentist or an endodontic specialist. Having an affordable root canal performed on a front tooth may cost around $700+. Premolars are more expensive to treat, costing an average of $800+. Molars are the most costly to operate, and may cost $900+ or more. If you need to have the treated tooth covered with a dental crown, which is quite common, there will be additional fees.
Since root canals are considered a necessary treatment for an abscessed tooth, dental insurance often covered the associated costs. You may be asked to pay some of the costs out-of-pocket if you opt for a more expensive crown, such as one made from porcelain rather than metal amalgam.
If you believe you may be suffering from a dental abscess, use our “dentist near me” ZIP search tool to find a handful of local offices and convenient options. You can also make an appointment by calling us at (214)731-0124. When a root canal is performed promptly, it can often save a tooth that would otherwise need to be extracted. The treatment is simple, painless, and results in a healthier and more attractive smile.