7 Tell-tale Signs Your Patient Needs a Root Canal and Everything They Need to Know About It | Benco Dental
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7 Tell-tale Signs Your Patient Needs a Root Canal and Everything They Need to Know About It

May 10, 2022

11 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Root Canal

#1 What is a root canal?

Root canal therapy is a kind of endodontic treatment. “Endo” means “inside” and “odont” means “tooth” in Greek. Simply put, it means treating the inside of the tooth.

The procedure is what dentists do to save rotting teeth from extraction. Instead of removing badly damaged teeth, some patients opt for this treatment that cleans the canals inside a tooth’s root.

Not too long ago, this procedure was considered extremely painful. Thanks to advancements in dental technology and local anesthetics, root canal treatment or root canal therapy is no longer as painful.

To make your patient fully understand the procedure, you can orient them with simple tooth anatomy. Explain that while the teeth may be hard on the outside, their core has soft tissue filled with nerves and blood vessels.

Then, explain about the pulp as the connective tissue found deep within the tooth’s dentin and white enamel. Add that if the pulp swells due to an infection or irritant, the patient will likely end up in severe pain. However, once the pulp is decontaminated (cleaned out) and the shaping and obturating take place, they will be free from the pain.

Remember: If patients understand the purpose of root canal therapy is to eliminate the infection and protect the tooth from further infection, they may relax toward the idea of undergoing the procedure.

Interesting Statistics About Root Canal

Root canals are routinely performed in clinics across the country. However, many people still have misconceptions about the procedure and its outcomes. Unfortunately, these myths keep them from seeking proper treatment for their dental issues.

If your patients are hesitant about root canal therapy, these numbers may put them at ease.

  • More than 15 million root canals are performed in the United States by endodontic specialists every year.
  • More than 41,000 root canals are performed daily.
  • Only 17% of people who’ve had a root canal said it was their “most painful dental experience,” despite the widespread belief that it is.
  • Research shows that root canal treatment has a success rate of up to 98%

#2 What are the tell-tale signs that you need a root canal?

Are your patients wondering if they need a root canal treatment? Of course, only you can recommend this procedure to your patients as a dentist. Nonetheless, we’ve listed down some red flags pointing to possible cavities and other dental issues that can be treated with a root canal.

If your patients notice these signs, advise them to visit your clinic immediately.

#1 Incessant Pain

One tell-tale sign that your patient might need a root canal treatment is persistent tooth pain. Having a toothache can keep them awake at night and leave them weak during the day.

Sometimes it can be a sharp, throbbing pain that comes in waves. Other times, it is an annoying dull ache. It may come and go, but it will always come back unless your patients get their teeth treated. Apart from this pain, their jaw and the side of their faces may also hurt.

Cavities are not the only possible cause of toothaches. Here are some other possible reasons:

    • Gum disease
    • Damaged filling
    • Impacted tooth

Regardless of the cause, educate your patients on the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

#2 Sensitivity to Heat and Cold

Ask your patients: When they sip a hot cup of coffee, do their teeth ache? How about when they eat ice cream or drink ice-cold water? These jolts of pain may be another sign of an oral cavity.

Hot or cold food can unexpectedly trigger a sudden pang in their damaged teeth. This is because the enamel in their teeth has worn off over time, exposing the inner part of their teeth where the nerves lie. This could also indicate damage to the blood vessels in your patient’s teeth.

#3 Pain When Eating and Brushing

Ask your patient to take a bite. Is the pressure causing them pain? Have eating and brushing become grueling tasks for them? Sensitive teeth could be telling of severe decay or nerve damage that often requires root canal therapy.

Succinctly explain that when the pulp of our tooth dies, the ligament becomes hypersensitive. The waste products from the dying pulp could irritate the ligaments, resulting in pain from biting pressure.

#4 Tooth Discoloration

Are your patients worried about grayish teeth? Orient them about pulp necrosis (tooth decay) due to a lack of blood supply, resulting in discoloration or blackening of the teeth. When the tooth’s roots are damaged or destroyed, it takes on a grayish-black coloration.

#5 Swollen Gums

Swollen gums near painful teeth are another potential sign that your patients need a root canal procedure. While the swelling may come and go, tell them that the infected area may be tender to the touch. It may even be numb to pain, but remind your patients that they should still have it treated.

Edema (swelling) is caused by the acidic waste products of dead pulp tissues. Your patient could also have a parulis (gum boil or abscess) on their gum that would sometimes ooze out pus.

Edema sometimes causes bad breath and a foul aftertaste. Your patients should know that brushing regularly and using mouthwash won’t be enough to cure this. If they have it, they need to get their swollen gums treated.

#6 Chipped or Cracked Teeth

The most common dental injury is a chipped tooth. Whatever the cause, whether it’s an accident or biting a hard object, when your patient’s tooth is exposed, bacteria can set in and cause infection.

Allow patients to understand that even if a tooth is accidentally hit but does not break or chip, the contact can still damage the nerves. Root canal treatment is necessary if the nerve becomes inflamed and causes pain and sensitivity.

#7 Loose Teeth

Educate your patients that wobbly teeth among adults mean they have an infection. This can be yet another sign that a root canal treatment is necessary. Waste from dead nerves can soften the bone around the root of a decaying tooth, causing it to be less stable.

#3 What happens in a root canal treatment?

First and foremost, the root canal will be cleaned and shaped, then a rubber-like material known as gutta-percha will be used to fill the canal. Dentists also use adhesive cement to secure the gutta-percha to the root canals. To close the gap, they will use temporary fillings.

After a week or so, patients will return to have the temporary filling removed and their tooth restored. Dentists sometimes place a crown or other fixture on the tooth to protect and permanently restore it.

#4 What are the three stages of root canal treatment?

After conducting initial examinations and once your patients decide to undergo root canal therapy, what happens next? Here’s a simplified discussion of the three main stages of the procedure, so your patient understand what they will go through.

Step 1: Extirpation

First, local anesthetics numb the infected tooth. A rubber dam is then placed around the patient’s tooth to protect it from saliva. This also serves as a barrier between the mouth and the instruments dentists use during the procedure.

Next, dentists will proceed to make a small opening on the tooth’s crown, which would enable them to clean the root canal with small files. They also use antibacterial solutions for disinfection.

Once this is done, dentists will leave the medicine inside the tooth for one to two weeks to fully treat the tooth. They seal the gap with a temporary filling.

Step 2: Instrumentation

During the instrumentation, the tooth is cleaned more thoroughly to remove all remaining bacteria from the extirpation.

In this stage, dentists will measure the length of the root canal. Additionally, they will use x-rays to verify their measurements ensuring that the entirety of the root canal is cleaned and filled.

Step 2: Obturation (Filling the Root Canal)

The tooth is cleaned more thoroughly during the instrumentation to remove all remaining bacteria from the extirpation.

In this stage, dentists will measure the length of the root canal. Additionally, they will use x-rays to verify their measurements, ensuring that the entirety of the root canal is cleaned and filled.

#5 Can root canals fail?

Failure is improbable but still possible based on the procedure’s success rate. In sporadic cases, this can happen due to cracks in the root area or obstructions that make it difficult to clean the tooth’s root area.

Explain that swelling, sensitivity, and incessant pain after the procedure are signs that your patient may have to come back to you after a root canal.

#6 Do you need antibiotics after a root canal?

When it comes to root canal after care, antibiotics are not always necessary. But highlight that dentists may recommend antibiotics before the procedure to increase the likelihood of success.

#7 Is a crown necessary after a root canal?

Remind your patients that root canal therapy is not the end-all-be-all of their treatment. There is a chance that they may still need further treatment after this procedure.

Once the root canal treatment has addressed the pain and infection, permanent fillings or crowns may still be required to restore the tooth’s structure and functionality.

What is a crown?

It is a prosthetic, tooth-shaped cap permanently placed with dental cement. The need for a crown depends greatly on the position of the tooth.

Chewing is done primarily with the back teeth. A crown can reinforce restored molars and protect them from possible breakage.

#8 What are the side effects of root canal?

Explain to your patients that it is normal for their teeth to be sensitive a few days following the procedure. They should also expect their tooth to feel slightly different from the rest of their teeth. When the anesthetic wears off, they may experience some soreness and tenderness in their jaw caused by keeping their mouth open for long periods.

To treat these side effects, you can opt to prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen for pain management.

However, if the following symptoms persist long after the procedure, have them contact you.

  • Intense pain or pressure
  • Visible swelling in or around the mouth
  • Rash, hives, or itching indicative of an allergic reaction
  • Uneven bite
  • Loose filling or crown

#9 How long does a root canal last?

Root canals can last a lifetime. However, you may have to repeat the procedure on the same patient in some cases.

It may help to quote a study on the treatment’s longevity conducted on roughly half a million patients. The study found that most root canals (98%) lasted one year. Meanwhile, 92% lasted five years, and 86% of them lasted ten years or more.

Due to the different variables factoring into the outcome, such as the restoration quality, tooth location, and patient age, it’s impossible to predict precisely how long a root canal treatment will last. But the numbers prove that root canals are indeed an effective treatment option that can save a badly damaged tooth. And when performed by a board-certified endodontist, it is likely to last for more than a decade.

#10 How often can you have a root canal on the same tooth?

A dentist may perform a second, third, or even a fourth root canal treatment on the same tooth. This is because cleaning the root canal can be a challenge.

For instance, if the dentist fails to remove all the pulp, the infection may get sealed inside the tooth and later flare up. Another example is when root canals have extremely high angles. This occurrence is rare, but there may be a need to repeat the procedure if they do occur.

#11 How Much Does a Root Canal Cost?

If patients pay out of pocket, it may cost an average of $700 up to $1,800, depending on the tooth’s location. The front teeth are the least expensive costing $700 to $1,100. Bicuspids (mid-mouth) range from $800 to $1,200. Meanwhile, molars are often the most expensive, costing $1,200 to $1,800.

With insurance, the cost drops significantly. Depending on patients’ coverage, they can get their front teeth and bicuspids treated for as low as $200. They can also get their molars done for only $300.

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