The words "root canal" are enough to conjure up images of pain and discomfort in most people's minds. However, the idea that a root canal procedure is painful has to be one of the biggest misconceptions in dentistry. Thanks to modern anesthetics, you really should not feel any pain during a root canal — other than the initial sting of the local anesthesia being injected into your cheek and gums. If this isn't quite enough to feel comfortable, though, that is understandable. To learn more about what a root canal procedure actually entails, keep reading.
Step 1: Anesthesia and prep.
As mentioned above, a root canal begins with some local anesthesia being injected into the nerve associated with the tooth to be worked on. This anesthetic will take effect in a few minutes, and that part of your mouth will go numb. Most people do not need to be sedated for a root canal, but if you have dental anxiety, your dentist can give you laughing gas to take the edge off during the procedure.
Step 2: Drilling and accessing the tooth roots.
Once your tooth is numb, the dentist will use a powerful drill to drill an access hole into the crown of your tooth. Their goal is to access the pulp chambers that go down into each tooth root. These pulp chambers are actually known as the root canals.
Step 3: Extracting the pulp.
When the dentist reaches the pulp of the tooth, they will use a specialized suction tool to remove it. This effectively "kills" the tooth as the root pulp contains the blood vessels and nerves. However, as these tissues are painful and infected, they need to be removed.
Step 4: Filling the tooth roots.
Once the tooth pulp has been extracted and the root canals have been sanitized, the dentist will fill the tooth roots with a silicone-based substance. You may hear a squeaking noise as this is done.
Step 5: Filling and crowning the tooth.
With the roots full, your dentist will then use either silver amalgam or a composite to fill the access hole in the tooth. The root canal is now complete, although most patients need to come back in a week or two to have the tooth covered with a crown for additional protection.
Now that you have a better idea of what goes on in a root canal procedure, you can be at ease when your dentist says you need a root canal done.