Root canal treatment is a common dental procedure that's rarely well explained by dentists. There’s a considerable school of opinion that many dentists perform this treatment when it's not necessary.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a funnel-shaped channel filled with soft tissue that runs from the surface of a tooth down through the tooth itself and into the root. Both root stems have a root canal. The canal is where the main nervous tissue in the tooth is found.

Why does it require treatment?

The treatment of root canals is generally carried out when a tooth shows some level of decay or infection. The procedure is meant to stop further decay or spread of infection which will cause total loss of the tooth. The soft tissue is removed from the canals and replaced with artificial cement.

What happens in root canal treatment?

Because the soft tissue within the canal contains the nerve tissue, the procedure would require the administration of an anesthetic. This is often normally a local anesthetic that will numb the tooth and surrounding areas. The dentist drills into the tooth and removes decay or infected tissues after the anesthesia takes place. Where the canal narrows within the actual root stem, the dentist will use a manual device to extract all the soft tissue.

The space left behind by the extracted tissue is filled with rubber cement. To make sure that no air pockets remain within the canal, the dentist will take an x-ray of the treated tooth. If an air pocket is found, the dentist will need to remove the cement and refill the canal. This part of the procedure may need to be repeated several times.

When the dentist is satisfied that there are no air pockets, the opening is sealed permanently, and therefore the remaining cavity in the upper part of the tooth is filled.

Is the treatment painful?

Root canal treatment has a bad reputation as being an unpleasant treatment for a few reasons. The procedure is only carried out under anesthetic and, within the vast majority of cases, is not any different from having a filling done. In some cases the patient may feel some discomfort as the operation requires cutting the ends of the nerves and after the procedure, some patients may experience mild pain for each day or two.

Because of the character of the treatment, having a root canal done can sometimes be a quite lengthy procedure, therefore the patient is in the chair for longer than normal, and this might increase the discomfort, particularly for the more nervous patients.

Is there an alternative to the treatment?

The vast majority of dentists would argue that there is not an alternative. In cases where the infection is that the problem, some dentists believe that attempting to treat the infection with antibiotics is preferred. The case against this approach is that if the antibiotic treatment doesn't work, it's going to be too late to save lots of the tooth with root canal treatment. The first reason for carrying out the procedure is that, before a new method of antibiotic administration which will cause a different approach, there was no way to directly target the infected area.

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