The Tooth You Save May Just Be Your Own — Root Canals

Root CanalThere are certain phrases you really don’t want to hear:

  • “Your mother-in-law is coming on vacation with us.”
  • “Our flight is delayed.”
  • “The boss wants to see you, in private.”

Or “You need to have a root canal.”

Instantly people conjure up images of the scene from Marathon Man where the evil Nazi doctor played by Lawrence Olivier is drilling the teeth of innocent Dustin Hoffman. Everyone thinks root canals hurt like getting your head put in a vice.


Modern root canals are no more painful than having a typical cavity filled. After all, you’re getting the same local anesthesia so that you don’t feel anything during the procedure. And soreness afterwards is minimal at best.

So, why the misperceptions about root canals? It’s probably the pain BEFORE the root canal that gets people’s attention. When a tooth has suffered extreme trauma (such as in a sports collision) or when decay has reached the interior pulp of the tooth the pulp becomes infected or dies. This increases blood flow to the area and pressure builds inside the tooth causing pain. Those are the classic signs of inflammation, and inflammation hurts. This pain is especially evident when drinking or eating hot or cold foods or beverages, or when chewing.

What is a root canal?

A root canal removes all the infected and dead pulp in the canal that runs down through the tooth root. When a tooth is healthy this canal or canals are the life support system of the tooth. But once the pulp becomes infected it all needs to be removed. Then the empty canal is filled with gutta-percha, a rubberlike material they used to use to make golf balls, and the tooth is sealed with a filling, or if lots of the tooth is lost because of decay, maybe a crown. When the tooth is empty, it no longer has any nerves, so it can’t cause any more pain.

A root canal is the only way to save a tooth that has extensive decay or has been affected by trauma. The alternative is extraction, which is always the last resort.

Do you have a tooth that is very sensitive to hot and cold? It could be decay and you could need a root canal to save your tooth. Call us at the Doctors of Dental Medicine, 732-329-3113, and let’s take a look at that tooth!

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