what causes root canal

Root Canals: What Are They and Why Do I Need One?

Few phrases strike as much fear in the hearts of dental patients as “root canal.” While no one enjoys getting a root canal, they don’t have to be nearly as scary as people imagine them to be. What’s more, they’re essential for relieving pain and restoring your smile.

A root canal is a procedure that removes damaged or infected dental pulp from the center of your tooth. While only a dentist can say if you need one, problems such as constant pain and tooth sensitivity may point to the need for a root canal. Many people worry about pain, but root canals are usually no more painful than a deep filling.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a type of dental therapy performed when the pulp of a tooth becomes damaged or infected. Dental pulp is located at the soft center of the tooth. It’s made up of nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels that act as the “root” or “legs” of your tooth. The root canal extends from the pulp chamber down to the root of the tooth.

Dental pulp begins to break down when damaged, causing bacteria to grow. This can lead to:

  • Infection
  • An abscessed tooth
  • Bone loss around the root 
  • Swelling that can spread to other parts of the body

In these cases, the pulp needs to be removed in order to preserve the tooth as well as protect your oral and overall health. The nerves of your teeth aren’t actually that crucial for their health and usage. They mainly serve to help you feel hot and cold sensations, which aren’t necessary when it comes to the everyday use of your teeth.

While removing the nerve won’t affect the everyday use of your tooth, it does have some side effects. Namely, your tooth becomes weaker and more prone to fracture. To prevent this, your dentist will apply a crown to help protect your tooth and maintain its longevity.

When do I need a root canal?

The only guaranteed way to know if you need a root canal is by talking to your dentist. However, there are a few signs that may point to needing a root canal. Common symptoms of damaged dental pulp include: 

  • Pain when chewing
  • Long-term pain
  • Sensitivity
  • Swollen gums
  • Tooth discoloration
  • The tooth being loose
  • Chipped or cracked teeth

Keep in mind that these symptoms don’t automatically mean that you need a root canal. With that said, they do signal that something isn’t right with your oral health. Contact us today to schedule an appointment if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. Our team can determine the cause and provide treatment to restore your smile. 

Do root canals hurt?

This is the big question that many people have about root canals, and the fear of pain prevents them from seeking the treatment they need. Root canals are no more painful than getting a deep filling. Most people experience discomfort after the procedure, but this pain is usually only mild to moderate. The best way to keep pain at a minimum is to follow your dentist’s cleaning instructions and return for any follow-up appointments they recommend.

What happens during a root canal?

A root canal can take one or more appointments to complete. To begin, we will take an X-ray of your root canals to look for signs of infection around the bone. If signs of infection are present, we’ll use local anesthesia to numb the area around the tooth to prevent any pain.

Truth be told, a local anesthetic isn’t always necessary for a root canal. The nerve is already dead due to damage and infection, so your chances of experiencing severe pain are much lower than people think. With that said, a lot of dentists will use a local anesthetic anyway to put  patients’ minds at ease and help them feel more relaxed.

Dealing with saliva can be a challenge for dentists during any dental procedure, whether it’s a routine checkup or a more complex undertaking like a root canal. To prevent this, your dentist or hygienist will place a rubber sheet known as a rubber dam around the tooth to help keep the area dry.

Next, your dentist will drill a hole so that they can access the soft center of the tooth. This is so they can remove the damaged pulp along with any bacteria and other debris that’s causing problems. They do this using a series of root canal files that get larger in diameter, allowing your dentist access to clean the sides of the root canals.

Follow-Up Appointments

Your dentist may decide to seal the tooth during the initial visit. However, some prefer to put medication inside your tooth to clear up any infection and seal it a week later. In this case, a temporary filling is used to prevent any new contaminants from entering the tooth between visits.

It’s important to continue maintaining good oral hygiene during this period of time. This includes:

  • Brushing for two minutes, twice a day
  • Flossing at least once a day after eating
  • Making sure you go to your follow-up appointment

During your follow-up appointment, your dentist will fill the tooth with a special mixture of sealant paste and rubber compound. The access hole is sealed using a permanent filling.


Your tooth may also need some restoration to help restore its original functionality. Teeth that require root canals have often experienced other problems, so a crown or other type of restoration may be used to help protect them from further damage. Your dentist will discuss your options and help you determine which is best for your situation.

A root canal is a procedure where the infected or damaged dental pulp is removed from the tooth. Symptoms such as pain and swollen gums may signal that you need a root canal, but only your dentist can say for certain. Root canal procedures can have minimal pain with mild to moderate pain during the healing process.

Do you suspect that you may need a root canal? Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

Athens Family Dental is open Monday through Thursday to help with all your dental needs. Call us today at (423) 745-3559, or you can schedule an appointment online.

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