The phrase 'root canal' is a dreaded phrase by many, one which evokes horrifying imagery of unimaginable suffering. If your dentist informs you that you need a root canal, it is only reasonable to experience pure terror at the very notion. However, the reality of the procedure is much less harrowing experience than the general public would have you believe. Here is an explanation of what a root canal really is, and exactly how it will affect you.
Basically, a root canal is the extraction of infected pulp within a tooth. When decay spreads deep into a tooth, it is no longer a simple cavity. Once the nervous tissue deep within a tooth is infected, the pain that you will experience will be incredible. In fact, the misconception that root canals are extremely painful stems mostly from the pain experienced prior to surgery. The root canal is meant to reduce the obscene amounts of pain associated with the decay of nerves in your teeth.
After the pulp has been removed, you will probably need a crown to replace the section of tooth that was removed during the root canal. These are generally permanent fixtures which act as synthetic teeth.
A root canal is generally an emergency procedure due to the extreme discomfort of nerve damage in teeth. The goal is to immediately remove the infected pulp and repair the tooth, thereby preserving the tooth.
If you opt to remove the tooth instead of a root canal, then you will experience a severely-diminished quality of life. Missing teeth can lead to difficulty speaking and chewing, and can only be replaced by either dentures or implants. The former is fairly uncomfortable to adjust to and requires constant maintenance, while the latter is extremely expensive.
The procedure is painful, so you will probably be given some anesthetic or numbing agent. However, you will probably also receive a temporary crown to last until your real crown is ready. This means that you can usually eat soon after the root canal and should not suffer any serious pain after the operation.
Root canals are generally expensive, so you should ideally get a check-up at the doctor several times a year in order to see the early warning signs of tooth decay. Root canals generally only become necessary when decay is left unchecked for a long period of time.
The procedure may cost several hundred dollars, with the crown costing several hundred more. However, insurance should cover a significant portion of the cost, so you aren't paying it all out of pocket.
Hopefully this has dispelled some of the myths surrounding root canals. If you are given the recommendation that you need a root canal, then your tooth is probably in dire straits.