So your dentist just told you that you need a root canal, and all you can think about is that guy from the Charles Dickens movie with the white piece of cloth wrapped around the top of his head and under his chin (Did that actually help with the pain?) Or in my case, I picture Bugs Bunny exploring Elmer Fudd’s mouth and pretending to know what he’s doing–at poor Elmer’s expense. Whatever your visual, you already have your preconceptions of what a root canal entails.
But what is a root canal? A root canal is when the dentist removes the nerve from your tooth in order to eliminate infection and eliminate your pain. It’s necessary when you have a cavity that has gotten so large that it has reached your nerve, or when you’ve managed to crack your tooth by ripping a bottle cap off of your Bud Light with your molars (which you shouldn’t have even attempted because most American light beers have twist-off caps).
Root canals have the reputation of being painful, but at their worst, they’re usually just a little boring. As long as your dentist gives you enough anesthesia, you really shouldn’t feel any pain. I’ve completed several root canals on my patients, only to have them ask me, “Was that it?”
But I won’t be all rainbows and butterflies either. There are times during a root canal procedure when a patient can feel discomfort, but these instances are almost always predictable and brief. When a patient comes into the office with what we call a “hot tooth,” (they have active and intense pain), they can be challenging to numb. But once we access the nerve chamber and are able to numb the nerve directly, all pain dissipates. These instances are rare, however, and they usually occur on overly nervous patients–which means that there is a contributing psychosomatic aspect to their pain.
And not to be overlooked, proper diagnosis and planning is important to determine if a tooth really does need a root canal. A tooth’s restorative prognosis (being able to reconstruct the tooth once the pain and infection are gone) can be so bad that an extraction and implant is actually a better solution.
In summary, as long as your dentist has experience and can communicate their expectations of the procedure to you, you’ll be in good hands. Don’t let Bugs Bunny ruin root canals for you. After all, Elmer didn’t feel a thing.
And did you read our previous article about dental deep cleanings?