By Dr Hira M. Khan
Anytime you were prescribed a dental treatment by a healthcare provider, I am sure you wondered what it was; why exactly did you need it; what would happen to you, and will it hurt? One of the most feared dental treatments is the root canal treatment (RCT), which is mainly due to the several myths and misconceptions associated with it. It is not really that scary, let me assure you of that. In case you are someone who was suggested RCT by your dentist, let me help you with that natural anxiety by addressing some of the commonest queries that I know might be swirling in your head.
Question no. 1) Why do I need the ‘scary’ treatment? Why doesn’t my dentist just fill the hole in my tooth and get done with it?
Answer) Your dentist didn’t suggest filling to you because it is probably a little too late for that. The bacteria that was gnawing at your tooth, have burrowed a hole all the way to the core, infecting the pulp which is the soft tissue inside the hard tooth structure. Sealing the hole is not the solution here. The infected tissue needs to be removed from inside the tooth, and that is why you need the ‘not-so-scary’ root canal treatment.
[Note: Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist to help you understand your case better by showing you the radiograph of your diseased tooth. With your dentist’s assistance you will be able to see how the cavity is no longer superficial and has gone much deeper.]
Question no. 2) What exactly is a root canal treatment?
Answer) The bacteria caused your tooth to rot, then it spread to the core of your tooth and infected the tissue inside. As a result, you are in pain. That needs to be catered to, along with stopping the infection from spreading. For that, the root canal treatment needs to be performed. The root canal is the space at the centre of the tooth where the pulp (consisting of nerves and blood vessels) lies.
What will happen during the procedure is that after the area is numbed, a small friendly drill will remove all the rotten tooth structure so that only the strong and healthy portion is left behind. With the help of the same drill, a path will be made to the centre of your tooth, where the diseased tissue lies. Then with the help of some instruments, the infected pulp will be removed from the tooth; followed by the cleaning and sealing of the canal. The dentist will build up your tooth using artificial material, and then cover it with a crown!
Question no. 3) Will it hurt?
Answer) Anxiety driven from fear of pain is the major culprit when it comes to people avoiding dental care, which only leads to worsening of their case and the need for more intense procedures.
The whole focus of RCT is to remove the painful, infected tissue from the core (root canal), and seal it. RCT relieves the patient of the severe pain and prevents further worsening of the case. With modern technique, equipment, and anaesthesia (numbing agent), root canal treatments are virtually painless, can be carried out in much less time, and with comfort.
Question no. 4) Can I avoid RCT, and treat my problem with painkillers and antibiotics?
Answer) RCT is recommended in case of irreversible disease of the pulp (irreversible pulpitis), where the tissue is headed toward complete necrosis (tissue death). Painkillers can temporarily numb the pain, and antibiotics can calm the infection and ebb the spread of infection for the time being. These medicines, however, cannot cure the irreversible pulpitis (as is obvious from the name, the disease cannot be reversed). The source of the disease, the infected pulp needs to be removed followed by the sealing of the tooth, in order to definitively treat the tooth.
Question no. 5) Should I just get my tooth pulled out?
Answer) That is an option, but an undesirable one. Extracting a tooth that did not necessarily need extraction will lead to other dental issues and then their treatments, which can get unnecessarily extensive. It is always better to go with the most conservative approach, which will cause the least amount of trouble, take full care of the problem at hand, and leave more treatment options for you in the future.
Question no. 6) I want to get the treatment; I have only been delaying it because of fear. What do I do?
Answer) Communication is key. Make sure you communicate your fear to your dentist. Dentists are trained in patient management; they listen to your concerns and use their knowledge to best cater to them. It is a major part of their job to put your comfort first.
In case your anxiety stems from fear of pain, mention it to your dentist. If the noise of the instruments makes you anxious; and you think that the long time you might have to spend in the dentist’s chair might cause you discomfort, please, tell your dentist. There are ways that can easily address these concerns. Techniques such as counselling, sedation, and treatment under general anaesthesia can be of help in such cases. So let your dentist know instead of shying away from needed treatments.
Question no. 7) Can I get sick because of the root canal treatment?
Answer) There is no valid research to prove that getting a root canal treatment can cause any kind of illness. This is a myth based on age-old debunked studies.
Question no. 8) Can getting a root canal treatment cause cancer?
Answer) No, there is absolutely no truth to that. It is a myth devised by someone with incomplete knowledge on the subject. No authentic, published study acknowledges this ‘rumour’. On the contrary, many recent studies confirmed finding no connection between Root Canal Treatment and Cancer.
TIP: To ensure a smoother experience when opting for a root canal treatment, get referred to an Endodontic Specialist instead of getting treated by a General Dentist. Endodontists are specialized in this field and use much-advanced techniques and cutting-edge technology that can make your visit a much-relaxed experience.
Written By: Hira M.Khan