Did you know that in the United States alone, dentists perform more than 15 million root canals every year? Many people have horrific images of what they think root canals are like. Usually, people picture root canals as being very painful, but is that really the case?
More than that, how can you know if you're in need of a root canal? How long do root canals take? In short, root canals take between 30 and 60 minutes, but that's not the full story.
There are certain factors that can affect the length of your root canal procedure. Keep reading and learn more about what a root canal is, why a person might need one, what the procedure involves, and how long it might take.
What Is a Root Canal?
Before you understand the dental procedure of a root canal, you will first need to understand a little bit about the anatomy of your teeth. All your teeth are covered in a shell of tooth enamel. This tooth enamel is very strong (it is actually one of the strongest tissues in your entire body).
However, it is still susceptible to certain things such as cavities and tooth decay caused by poor dental care. Beneath the thick layer of tooth enamel, there are more sensitive dental tissues, specifically dental pulp. This dental pulp is full of blood vessels and nerves that supply the tooth and keep it alive.
If the pulp becomes damaged in any way, for example, as a result of tooth decay, serious problems could start to occur with that tooth in particular. You might get a tooth infection or the tooth itself might die off. You will notice when your dental health gets to this severe point because your tooth or teeth will start to hurt quite badly.
This is because your tooth enamel will no longer be able to protect the more sensitive dental tissues on the inside of your tooth. As a result, your dental nerves are exposed and very sensitive. The biggest problem is the problem of infection.
If you get a dental infection and leave it untreated, it could spread to other nearby teeth. This could cause serious damage to your other teeth and they might turn yellow or even black as a result. In very serious cases, the infection could spread to the rest of your body and cause symptoms such as fever, pain, and chills.
In some rare cases, death could result from this untreated infection. Fortunately, it is easy to treat a tooth infection before it gets too serious. Traditionally, a dentist would extract the whole infected tooth.
Today, dentists prefer to use root canals because they are less invasive and you get to keep your tooth.
More than that, extracting a tooth is much more painful than a root canal and can cause dental problems later in life. What causes a tooth to become infected in the first place, you might ask?
It all has to do with dental bacteria.
There are certain strains of bacteria that live in your mouth and wreak all sorts of havoc. In particular, they cause tooth decay, gum disease, and cavities. When you get a cavity, the bacteria will continue to burrow into your tooth until they reach the sensitive inner tissues inside.
When the bacteria reach the tooth's blood supply, they are able to cause an infection as a result. However, a cavity isn't the only way that bacteria can infiltrate the center of a tooth. If your tooth is cracked or damaged in some way, it will be easy for bacteria to slip into the tooth and cause an infection.
An infection may also result from repeated trauma of the tooth. For example, if you often get dental treatments on the same tooth for one reason or another, it will make the tooth more susceptible to infection.
How Do You Know if You Need a Root Canal?
Before you go to your local dentist, there are a few ways you can tell whether or not you need a root canal. For example, if you have tooth pain that is persistent (and even tooth pain that comes and goes), you may be in need of a root canal. This kind of pain is characteristic of compromised tooth enamel and exposed dental tissues.
In the same vein, sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures is also important to keep in mind. If your tooth starts to change color, you should start to consider taking a trip to the dentist. Finally, if there are any cracks or chips on your tooth and if you experience pain when biting down on the tooth, it may be a good idea to go to the dentist and get a root canal, if necessary.
If you go to the dentist and your dentist says that your tooth is infected and needs a root canal, you should take this advice seriously. Some people put off getting a root canal because they are afraid of the procedure. However, the consequences of not treating your tooth are much worse than getting a root canal.
As mentioned before, an untreated tooth infection can end up infecting other teeth. If you're not careful and if you don't get treatment as soon as possible, the infection could end up spreading to other parts of your body and cause serious damage. But what should you expect from the root canal procedure if you really do need one?
What Is a Root Canal Procedure?
Many people tend to think that root canals are extremely painful dental procedures, but this is not the case at all. While it is true that, in the past, root canals were painful this is not the case anymore. That's because we have numbing options that are much more effective than the numbing options available in the past.
When you go in for a root canal procedure, your dentist will numb a portion of your mouth or your entire mouth, depending on what kind of numbing is necessary for your particular case. If you are very nervous about the procedure, your dentist might even provide you with sedation such as nitrous oxide. This will help to keep you calm and unaware of any discomfort during the procedure.
During the procedure, you should not feel any pain, but you may feel some pressure once the dentist starts to work on your tooth. After your mouth is numb, the dentist will drill a small hole into the center of your tooth to reach the inner pulp. The pulp is where the infection lives.
To remove the infection, your dentist will need to remove some of the infected pulp. This will take some time to complete.
The procedure may take longer if your tooth is very infected and more of the pulp needs to be removed. It may also take longer if there are several teeth that are in need of root canals. Once the pulp is removed, your dentist will wash out the inside of the tooth to disinfect it and remove any harmful bacteria.
In some cases, your dentist may place some medication inside of your tooth. This medication will break down over a certain period of time and destroy the infection remaining inside your tooth. If this is the case, you will need to go back to the dentist for a second time to check up on the tooth.
Otherwise, your dentist will then fill the tooth with resin. This resin is very hard and will protect the inside of your tooth from damage. You may or may not need a dental crown to cover and protect the treated tooth.
If this is the case, you will need to go back to the dentist a second time to get the crown.
How Long Do Root Canals Take?
Root canals usually last between 30 and 60 minutes, but they can sometimes last as long as 90 minutes. What determines the length of the procedure, you might ask? Much of it depends on what kind of tooth the dentist needs to treat.
For example, molars take the longest to treat, usually around 90 minutes. This is because molars are at the very back of the mouth and are hard to reach compared to other teeth. Besides that, molars are very large teeth and have four roots.
If several or even all of these roots are infected, it is going to take a long time to drill into each of them and remove the infection. Premolars take a long time to treat as well, but not as long as molars. Premolars are closer to the front of the mouth and are easier to reach.
They may have one or two roots. Usually, they take around 60 minutes to treat.
Canines and Incisors
Finally, there are canines and incisors at the front of the mouth. These teeth are much easier to treat because they only have one root and they are easy to reach.
It usually takes around 45 minutes to perform a root canal on these teeth. The time it takes for the procedure may extend if you are in need of a dental crown after the root canal procedure. As mentioned before, you will likely need another appointment for this.
Your dentist will need to sand down your tooth into a small nub so that it will be able to fit the dental crown over top. The main function of the dental crown is to restore function to your tooth. However, the crown will also protect your tooth, especially if it is already very sensitive.
How Painful Is a Root Canal?
No one can deny that a root canal is a major dental procedure, but it should not be excruciatingly painful. There are various ways to numb the mouth so that the discomfort you feel during a root canal is minimal. Usually, a dentist uses a local anesthetic before performing a root canal.
This will completely numb the area of your mouth that needs treatment. The good thing about a local anesthetic is that it does not affect your mind in the slightest. For that reason, you will be able to drive yourself home from the dentist, if necessary.
If a local anesthetic isn't enough for your particular dental case, your dentist may combine it with nitrous oxide.
This gas is also known as laughing gas because it has the ability to create a feeling of elation and euphoria. Laughing gas will keep you distracted so that you won't know what's going on as the dentist operates on you and you will be in a very calm state.
Laughing gas wears off very quickly once the dentist cuts off the flow and provides you with pure oxygen to breathe. After a few minutes, your head should be clear again and you will be able to drive yourself home.
After you get home from the dentist and the anesthetic starts to wear off, you may start to feel some pain. You can numb this pain in various ways such as by taking some OTC pain medication. Besides that, using an ice pack on your mouth can also help numb the area.
To avoid irritating the area, try eating soft foods like soup or yogurt for the first few days after treatment.
Understanding Root Canals
How long do root canals take exactly? It all depends on what kind of teeth you need to treat. For example, molars take the longest and they may take as long as 90 minutes because they have four roots.
On the other hand, canines and incisors only have one root and take only 45 minutes to treat. To learn more about dental treatment, contact us here.