A root canal isn’t painful. At least it shouldn’t be. Yet, no matter how many times we’re told this by our dentist, we seem to dread getting root canals all the same. Infected teeth hurt and even if our dentists are helping the problem, we would rather not have anyone working inside our mouths for long periods of time. Furthermore, root canals are inconvenient. We have things to do, and if we don’t, we’ll think of something, anything to do so we don’t have to sit in a dentist’s chair for hours on end. That’s not even considering the cost. No matter what, a root canal is going to hurt us somewhere, whether it be the mouth, the wallet, or in our time. How can we avoid this?
How Cavities Do Their Damage
We all know what an untreated cavity feels like. Whether we’re drinking a glass of cold water or crunching on mixed nuts, any time we feel that dreadful nerve pain, we stop what we’re doing and let off a howl, bang our fist on the wall, or just sit in a moment of quiet agony. Maybe it’s some combination of these, but either way, we know the source of our pain. We know it all too well. Where does the pain originate from?
Blame It On Bacteria
Where there is leftover food in our mouths, there is a meal for bacteria. These bacteria form a community (you read that right; they are congregating inside your mouth right now!) and merge together to form a filmy substance on your teeth which feels rough and uneven. This is also known as plaque. These bacteria release a type of acid which slowly eats away at your tooth enamel.
Cavities Don’t Hurt
Here’s a shocker. A new cavity doesn’t actually hurt. The pain you’ve experienced begins when acids inside the mouth erode tooth enamel, opening holes big enough for bacteria to reach the center of the tooth. This center, or the pulp, becomes infected, which causes swelling, fever, swollen neck glands, and that awful sensitivity to hot and cold which I previously mentioned.
Solutions That Work
Until now, the best solution to fighting plaque build-up has been a routine dental visit. This is where a dental hygienist cleans your teeth and checks them for cavities. If decay is found, it can typically be removed in one of two ways.
The body has a miraculous way of healing itself after an injury. This isn’t the case with our teeth; our baby and adult sets are all we have. Tooth decay must be immediately removed, and the hole in the tooth must be “filled” to prevent harmful bacteria from re-entering. Dentists accomplish this through two types of fillings:
Amalgam fillings have been used in dentistry for over 150 years. These fillings are:
- Made up of 50% mercury
- Also known as “silver fillings” because of their color
- Relatively inexpensive compared to alternative types of fillings
- Extremely long-lasting
- Can be potentially dangerous due to mercury levels, although the FDA has assured safe use in people ages 6 and up
Resin composite fillings are a common alternative to amalgam. These fillings are:
- Also known as “clear” fillings because they have a similar color to teeth
- Strong and long lasting
- Often preferred for cosmetic reasons since they blend in with natural teeth
- More expensive than other types
- Polymerized by a blue dental curing light
If an infection has already spread to the inside of the tooth, a root canal is necessary. Part 2 will provide more information on how root canals deal with infection and why they work. We will also introduce a new method that may end the need for root canals altogether!