A lot of dental problems involve cavities on the outer layer of your tooth (the enamel.) But when infection creeps deeper into teeth, the inner structures require treatment as well. “Endodontics” is just that: “-endo,” meaning “inside,” and “-dont,” meaning “tooth.”
While general family dentists practice common endodontic procedures, a dentist with additional post-graduate training and who specializes in this type of treatment is an “endodontist.”
Traditional Root Canal Therapy
The type of endodontic treatment that people are familiar with is the root canal. Also referred to as “endodontic therapy,” a root canal is a comprehensive treatment solution that removes infected nerve tissues from inside of a tooth and then seals off the hollow chamber to prevent reinfection.
How do I Know if I Need a Root Canal?
A tooth may require endodontic treatment if it has been affected by any of the following conditions:
- Deep cavities
- Cracks or large fractures
- Old, large, failing restorations
- Darkening of the tooth compared to adjacent teeth
To know for certain whether or not internal damage is occurring, your dentist will likely need to take an x-ray in addition to your clinical exam. The radiograph may show evidence of structural damage or infection around the roots, which cannot be seen through direct vision. Additional testing to pressure or temperature changes may also be needed.
Root Canal Alternatives
It’s not uncommon for people to ask, “Do I need a root canal?” or “What other options are available?” In most situations, the only other choices are to have the tooth pulled, or to leave it alone. Both of these options can lead to increased risk of pain, infection, or emergency situations. An untreated dental abscess could easily impact adjacent teeth and the surrounding jaw structure, not to mention lead to bacteria entering into the cardiovascular system. In rare situations, children with abscessed teeth have required hospitalization and even die due to the swelling affecting their face and brain.
Other Types of Endodontic Treatment
Less common endodontic procedures (and more complicated root canals) are usually provided by an endodontist. One example is an apicoectomy. This procedure involves creating an opening in the side of the gums near the tooth root, then sectioning off the “apex” (tip of the root) and removing it through the opening, before it is closed back.
Children also need certain types of endodontic treatments on baby teeth, which are usually performed by a pediatric dentist. Because primary (baby) teeth are less dense, they tend to decay at a faster rate. A small cavity today could be one that’s involving the tooth’s nerve by the next checkup. If more than a filling is needed, something like a “pulpotomy” might be necessary. During a pulpotomy, the nerve is removed but the roots aren’t filled or sealed off, because they need to naturally shrink away as the adult tooth erupts.
Do Root Canals Hurt?
One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about endodontic treatment is that it’s painful. The truth is, most root canals feel about the same as if you were having a filling done. However, root canal therapy tends to take a bit longer to complete, due to the complex anatomical nature of unique teeth.
“But my mom had a root canal and said it was extremely painful” you say? Here’s where things start getting a little more technical. An internally damaged tooth can cause extreme pain. Abscesses also cause swelling around the root, leading to severe discomfort. Most of the pain that a person associates with a root canal is caused by the infection before treatment, or the challenges in numbing the tooth when severe inflammation is present. Your dentist might choose to put you on an antibiotic a few days or more prior to your appointment, to alleviate some of the swelling. However, prescription medication cannot heal or treat the tooth; you still need to have the root canal.
Affording Endodontic Dental Care
The longer you put your dental needs off, the more they tend to cost. Having a root canal now can save you both time and money later, when compared to pulling the tooth and getting something like a dental implant in its place.
If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to dental insurance, explore Cigna dental savings plans to save 15-50% on treatments like exams, filings, and more. Contact one of our Cigna dental savings experts today to get started.