At one time or another, we've all heard it said, or maybe we've said it ourselves: “I'd rather have a root canal than do X.” Jury duty, paying taxes, a trip to the motor vehicle bureau – all these get favorably compared by someone, somewhere, every day, to a root canal's rigors. But endodontic therapy (as the dentists call it) is hardly the ordeal it's made out to be. In fact, if you have the right doctor on the case, it's hardly worse than getting a filling.
The procedure is actually pretty simple, and barely scary at all. The endodontist (yes, you should always have a specialist do this, and not your regular dentist) numbs the area around the tooth with Novocain. He or she drills into the tooth, removes the living tissue – the blood vessels and nerves that are infected – and cleans the area thoroughly. He or she then fills the tooth with gutta-percha (a kind of natural, plant-based latex) and dental cement, slaps on a temporary crown, and sends you back to your regular dentist to have a permanent crown installed.
A crown, it turns out, is vital to the process. It seals the area and wards off a second infection. Without a crown, teeth that have undergone a root canal have a tendency to fracture and crack, and bacteria from the mouth tend to find their way back in. With the crown, the chances that the procedure will be a success increase sixfold.
None of this is exactly pleasant. It's not a day at the beach or a couple of hours alone with a good book. But it's not exactly like pulling teeth (so to speak) either. The procedure rarely takes more than an hour or so, and it rarely leaves the recipient with more than a couple of days of mild soreness. It is much less unpleasant than the toothache that probably brought you to the dentist in the first place, and it is much, much less unpleasant than the most common alternative therapy – extraction (told you it was better than pulling teeth!).
The point is, we make the much-maligned root canal out to be a kind of grueling torture, and nothing could be further from the truth. With a little bit of knowledge, a good doctor, and the right kind of mental preparation, it's no worse than any other dental procedure. It could very well save your tooth.
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