Don't Fear the Root Canal.

It's not what it used to be.

Understanding Root Canals

Root canals are one of the most commonly feared medical procedures. The author of a recent article in The Atlantic described root canals as, “so famously terrible that its name has long been a popular metaphor for a lengthy tour through agony itself.” Thankfully, advancements in dental practices now allow most root canals to be no more painful than having a cavity filled.

Understanding what a root canal is and how it is performed can help alleviate much of the anxiety that has long surrounded this highly effective treatment. Root canals are performed when a tooth has become infected by bacteria or when deep decay is present. Root canals allow people to keep their natural teeth, which has functional and aesthetic benefits.

Why are Root Canals Needed?

Our teeth are made up of an outside layer of enamel. Underneath the enamel is a hard substance called dentin. At the center of a tooth is soft tissue called pulp, which is made up of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues. Pulp helps grow the root of our teeth during development, however, a fully developed tooth can survive without pulp.

When a tooth is cracked or has a deep cavity, bacteria can enter the pulp causing serious infection or a tooth abscess which can lead to pulp death, bone loss, and even tooth loss. There are several reasons why a crack might occur in a tooth including injury that causes a chip or crack, repeated procedures on a tooth, and large fillings. Symptoms of an infected tooth include lingering sensitivity to hot or cold, severe pain when chewing, a visible hole or chip in a tooth, swollen and tender gums, swollen head or neck, or darkening of the gums.

Explaining Root Canal Treatment

A root canal is designed to remove bacteria and infection from a tooth, prevent reinfection of the tooth, and save the natural tooth.

Similar to having a cavity filled, anesthetic is injected into the gum in order to numb the nerves of the affected tooth and surrounding tissue. The dentist drills a hole into the crown of the tooth, removing any decay that is present, and uses small, specialized tools to remove diseased pulp. The newly exposed canals are flushed, cleaned, and dried. Sometimes medicine is put into the canal to clear infection (oral antibiotics may also be used). After the canal chamber has been prepared, the canal and tooth are filled.

Typically, root canals are completed in one treatment and, while your mouth will remain numb for a few hours, most people return to normal activity immediately. Some root canal procedures are more complicated and require two or more appointments. Your dentist will explain the procedure carefully and thoroughly so that you know what to expect.

Regular Professional Care Is Best

Keep in mind that not everyone who needs a root canal experiences symptoms. Regular, preventative visits to your dentist are the most important means of identifying potential issues. The staff at St. Croix Family Dentistry is dedicated to working with you to maintain a healthy mouth and beautiful smile!




Mull, Amanda. “The Myth of Root Canals.” The Atlantic, November 1, 2021.

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