Perhaps the most fear-evoking thing a dentist can say to his or her patient is “It looks like you need root canal on that tooth.” Some patients become pale, other say, “No way, put me to sleep, and I’ll have the tooth pulled.” Then I ask them if they ever had a root canal before, and most will say that they haven’t. So then I ask them why they are so afraid of the procedure. They usually tell me that they heard a horror story about root canal from their Aunt Kay or a friend of theirs. Certainly, this kind of second-hand learning can have a powerful impact on people. Likewise, there are other people who have a negative attitude about root canal and have actually had a bad experience themselves. They talk about the pain they suffered during treatment, and the many hours and multiple visits that it took to complete. It’s no wonder that so many people cringe when they hear their dentist say the words ROOT CANAL.
Well, I’ve got some good news for everyone who needs a root canal to save their tooth. New techniques have greatly reduced the time needed to perform a root canal, and also greatly limited the potential for discomfort. In almost all cases, root canal therapy can be effectively completed in just one visit! The average time needed to complete a root canal varies, but is usually between 30 and 60 minutes. Specifically, teeth in the front of the mouth (incisors and premolars) can often be completed in 30 minutes, and teeth in the back of the mouth (molars) in about one hour.
You might be wondering, “How is this possible?” The answer is that new technology makes it possible. Much of the work required when shaping the inside of the tooth roots can now be performed with versatile dental files mounted on a slow speed dental drill. Other advances in how the tooth roots are shaped and filled greatly increase the speed and accuracy of the root canal procedure.
So much for the speed, what about the pain? You will be relieved to know that in the vast majority of cases, root canal can be completed painlessly. Here are several methods dentists use to complete a “comfortable” root canal: The dentist can give 400 mg. of ibuprophen (Advil) before treatment, and use long acting anesthesia. The dentist can numb inside the tooth after routine anesthesia is given and also put topical anesthesia on the dental files during treatment. Finally, the dentist can use nitrous oxide sedation or other medications (like Valium) when treating anxious patients.
After root canal is completed, it is normal to feel discomfort for several days after the procedure. Ibuprophen (Advil) or Naproxen (Aleve) is very effective in eliminating this discomfort, but your dentist can also prescribe potent narcotic pain medication if needed. Take heart in knowing that today, a painless one-visit root canal can be done.