Root canals are one of the most dreaded procedures in dentistry, but that’s only because many people have an incomplete or outdated understanding of them. With modern tools, procedures, and anesthesia, most dental canals these days are complication-free with minimal discomfort to the patient; many folks are back to normal after a day or two. However, any emergency is inherently complicated, and an emergency root canal may evoke even more anxiety than a “regular” root canal. The good news is, in most cases an emergency root canal isn’t much more complicated than the standard procedure and maybe the best and fastest way to alleviate discomfort and pain. In order to explain that, we’ll take a look at what root canals do, what constitutes an emergency, and what you need to know.
What is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a dental procedure which is intended to save a badly infected or decayed tooth. When the damage from either infection or decay spreads to the pulp of the tooth, a root canal is employed. During a root canal, the nerve and pulp are removed, the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed with a rubbery substance called gutta-percha, and then the crown of the tooth is sealed to prevent further damage. This leaves the patient with a functional, natural-looking tooth while avoiding a spreading infection that can lead to permanent damage of the teeth, jaw, gums, and nerves. Decades ago root canals were painful and complicated, with long recovery periods. However, with modern dentistry things go a lot smoother for most patients, with minimal discomfort and recovery times. Root canals are generally performed with anesthesia, so the patient feels very little during the procedure.
How Do I Know I Need One?
There are some fairly obvious symptoms you can watch out for that may indicate you need a root canal or other treatment for a damaged, infected, or decayed tooth. These include the following:
- Sensitivity to heat and cold, particularly while eating and drinking, is a sign that something’s up with your teeth. It may be as simple as a cavity or eroded enamel but it may also be the sign of a larger issue that may require a root canal. Consult your dentist if you experience chronic sensitive teeth.
- Swollen gums, particularly painful or sensitive swollen gums, are another sign something may be wrong. While any sign of swollen gums is serious, gums that are swollen or discolored around a particular tooth or teeth may mean a root canal is in order. And as weird as it may sound, pimples on the gums may indicate infection as well, so keep an eye out for them.
- Discoloration of a tooth or teeth is a sign that they may be infected or otherwise damaged. If one or more teeth are in pain and turning a darker color, consult your dentist as soon as possible.
What Makes it an Emergency?
Well, one component of an emergency is timing—your issue may arise while your dentist’s office is closed. If that’s the case, call the office anyway and their answering machine may direct to you their emergency number or tell you to contact emergency services. Most emergency rooms have dentists available and can start to treat your problem, whatever it may be.
The important things to remember are that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a regular brushing and flossing routine can go a long way towards preventing the issues that make an emergency root canal necessary. Likewise, paying attention to the health of your teeth and gums will help you notice any such issues long before they reach a critical point, sparing you the time and trouble of a root canal.
We’ll close with the good news: most root canals are fairly straightforward procedures with few complications and minimal discomfort for the patient. They’re just another tool your dentist has for keeping your teeth and gums healthy, and if you should need a root canal there’s likely no reason to be afraid of it.