how do i know if i need a root canal or a filling

Only a dentist can determine whether a root canal or a filling is appropriate in your unique circumstance. 

Understand the difference between root canals and fillings, the signs that you need a root canal and the severity of pain during the procedure.

Some people are unsure when they need these procedures, so the first step is to understand what differentiates one from the other.

What is a Root Canal?

Firstly, know that this is a very beneficial procedure in cases where there is an extreme infection or structural damage to a tooth.

You may visit the doctor for a simple toothache or if you chipped your tooth. But, if the damage is so severe that exterior treatments won’t solve the problem the dentist will have to go inside and ensure the problem doesn’t continue. It’s a huge procedure but it’s better than losing your tooth, right?

Root Canal Procedure

The entire procedure which can be handled in one or multiple visits will involve:

  • Removing the inside—the pulp—of the tooth
  • Cleaning this interior canal and removing all decayed parts
  • Filling up the gap to keep the tooth solid and seal it to prevent any further decay

This will be done with the application of an anesthetic.

An additional option is to crown the tooth. This isn’t absolutely necessary but it will make the tooth stronger so it will stay in good condition for longer.

How Many Appointments are Needed Before the Procedure?

Timelines regarding root canals are very much situation dependent and will be determined by:

  • The dentist’s preferred method of treatment.
  • How long you want your appointments to last.
  • How severe the situation is, as a more serious infection will prolong the treatment.

This also determines how many appointments you’ll make. Realistically, everything can happen during the first visit. Alternatively, one appointment can be used to prepare the tooth and a second visit may be needed in order to administer the medicine in the root canal and close the tooth.

Two Visit Approach

In the two visit approach, the tooth will be cleared of the pulp and cleaned during the first visit. If necessary the dentist will also place antibiotics inside to clear all infections. You will then return for another appointment about a week later to get the filling.

This method works best in these cases:

  • When the infection is extreme and the dentist needs it to clear up first.
  • If you want short appointments. For individuals who have jaw problems, shorter appointments can prevent pain due to keeping their mouths open for too long.

These appointments can range from 30-60 minutes on average.

One Visit Approach

Alternatively, you can have everything done at once. Just be prepared to sit on the dental chair for a while. If all goes smoothly your appointment will be as short as +/-20 minutes, but it can also take up to +/-105 minutes. The latter applies to root canals done on teeth with multiple canals such as molars.

What Kind of Anesthetic is Used for Root Canal Treatment?

Is anesthetic the reason you dread getting a root canal? Don’t worry too much. Usually, only a local anesthetic is used to numb the relevant area of the mouth. You won’t have to fight off drowsiness, but do get some pain medication. When feeling returns it may be sensitive for a while.

Note that modern anesthetic is even safe to use on pregnant women but remember to discuss this with your dentist if you’re expecting.

Is the Root Canal Procedure the Same Every Time?

As mentioned above each person’s experience will be different. This also proves that you shouldn’t take your best friend’s description as a reference for how it will be for you.

The tooth that needs root canal treatment will also have an effect on the overall experience of the procedure as well as the timeline. An upper wisdom tooth usually has three roots while others have one or two. Cleaning and filling a wisdom tooth will, therefore, be quite unique when compared to other front teeth.

As noted above timelines also depend on your unique situation. So don’t expect the worst.

how long to do a root canal

What Happens If You Do Not Get a Root Canal

Root canals. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who actually enjoys getting them done, and yet, they are a vital part of keeping your teeth in healthy, working order.

That said, just how important are they? And, on that note, what happens if you just ignore the issue? In order to answer these questions, we need to take a look at why they are even necessary in the first place.

What is an infected root?

From time to time, one of your teeth may develop an infection in its root. This is often caused by general decay, but can also happen due to trauma or another form of direct injury.

Regardless of how it happens, the result is the same; the “pulp”, or nerve-endings that supply blood to the tooth, is infected by bacteria. Over time, this bacteria feasts upon this sensitive area, causing swelling, discomfort, and a host of other nasty issues within your gums.

Worse still, these infections can spread rapidly throughout other areas of your mouth. This can cause all manner of pains and discomforts, affecting your ability to talk, eat, and perform other basic activities. For this reason, a root canal is highly advised if you suspect you have any issues with your teeth or gums.

Why are root canals necessary?

Root canals serve as an essential function. They are relatively simple procedures and do not often involve a large amount of pain, as their reputation would have you think. Basically, the reason that they are so important is that they act as the first line of defense against the spread of internal bacteria. By cleaning out the pulp of the infected tooth, the risk of bacteria spreading to other areas is largely managed.

In addition, getting a timely root canal often means that you are able to save the tooth itself, which is obviously preferable to tooth extraction. Root canals help the body where it is otherwise helpless; under normal conditions, white blood cells would be sent to fight off an injection. But, in this case, the pulp is the main avenue for blood flow. When it is compromised, it is very difficult for this natural defense mechanism to have any effect.

What is the worst that could happen?

As mentioned above, if your injected root is not treated, it can eventually spread its injection to other areas of the mouth. Left untreated for long enough, it can actually spread throughout the entire body. It can also lead to the cracking of one or more of your teeth, requiring that they be completely extracted. This, in turn, opens up the potential for all manner of dental issues, such as the shifting of your teeth, which can even result in changes to your facial appearance as bones begin to move around on their own.

Nobody looks forward to getting a root canal done, but trust us, it’s better than the alternative. Keeping your teeth in good condition now will pay off in droves, later on, so don’t neglect them. You’ll thank yourself down the road.

Author: Peter Mayhew

Peter is a dental hygienist in the city of Chicago, IL. In his free time he likes to write blogs and product reviews on anything dental health related.