What is a root canal and is it painful?

Many people hear the term root canal and shudder thinking it is the most painful dental treatment available. However, root canals actually help relieve pain suffered by those with a tooth fracture or deep decay that is affecting the tender, sensitive “pulp” of the tooth. Here is everything you need to know about root canals and whether they are painful or not.

What Is A Root Canal?

A root canal (in kids sometimes called a pulpectomy) is a dental treatment used for patients suffering from a painful and/or infected pulp. The pulp is found at the center of the tooth and is extremely sensitive when it is alive. Your teeth have three basic layers, with the white enamel on the top, a hard surface below called the dentin, and then the very sensitive pulp in the center. When decay or damage to the tooth is severe, it can reach this inner section and cause an infection if bacteria enter the tooth.

This can be very painful because the pulp contains nerves, blood vessels and tissue. A root canal allows your Lakewood dentist to clear away the infection and seal the tooth to protect you from further infection. It is also the best way to save your natural tooth. 

Teeth with infected pulps can also cause ZERO discomfort, which is called necrosis.  This is when the nerve dies slowly over time (maybe you had a sore tooth for a week then it went away), but the infection is still present INSIDE the tooth.  This can be very dangerous and can cause something called an abscess, which can be life threatening.  Just because a tooth doesn’t hurt doesn’t mean it won’t give you an issue!

To perform the root canal, your Lakewood, CO dentist removes the pulp and clears away signs of the decay to ensure it is completely disinfected. The canal is then filled and sealed. You will feel great relief following the treatment as the inflamed area causing the pain will be gone. The tooth can be sore for a time as the area heals, but most patients report discomfort is minimal.  Your tooth will be healthy again and you will also have avoided potential tooth loss. Avoiding tooth loss is important because you can:

  • Continue to chew food properly
  • Prevent other teeth from straying into the gap from your missing tooth
  • Maintain a natural appearance

 In most cases, a crown is required to cap a severely damaged tooth following a root canal. However, the integrity of your natural tooth is still maintained.

How painful is a root canal?

 As with all more-involved dental treatments, your Colorado dentist uses local anesthesia to keep you comfortable during your root canal. You won’t feel anything different compared to having a filling. While some people might feel soreness following the procedure, this will ease within a few days. This discomfort will be far more bearable than the pain experienced due to the infection.

How Do You Know If You Need A Root Canal?

 Your dentist will assess your tooth and determine if a root canal is needed. In cases where you have a cracked tooth, signs of infection, or decay beneath an existing filling, root canals are often the recommended treatment. Some common symptoms you might need a root canal include:

  • Severe pain, especially when chewing or biting in the area
  • A pimple-like sore appearing on the gums
  • A severely chipped or cracked tooth
  • Deep, long-lasting sensitivity to hot or cold
  • Tender, swollen gums
  • Deep decay
  • A darkening of the gums

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is always best to contact your Lakewood, CO dental clinic to set up an appointment.

Interested in learning more about root canals? Schedule your next appointment here and we’ll get to know you and evaluate your unique needs.

To learn more about our restorative dentistry services in Lakewood, CO, visit this page here.

About the Author

Dr. Elizabeth Turner is a whole-health, family dentist in Lakewood, CO who provides general, restorative, and cosmetic dental care. She focuses on the mouth-body connection and helps her patients smile confidently, breathe clearer, and live healthier lives. 

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