When a tooth becomes infected below the surface of the gum, the area around the root of the tooth can form an abscess. This is a collection of fluid that indicates a serious infection that is painful for patients. The abscess builds pressure within the dental gum area, that triggers nerves and pain receptors.
When you have an abscessed tooth, the first approach is to reduce the level of infection with prescription antibiotics. For dental patients, this can mean being on a prescription antibiotic for up to ten days, prior to the root canal procedure. During this time, your dentist may also prescribe pain medication, depending on the severity of the abscess.
Your dental team will not conduct the root canal procedure until an x-ray examination shows that the amount of infection has been cleared up (temporarily) by the antibiotics.
What Does a Root Canal Do?
During a root canal procedure, the dentist will drill through the center of the tooth (from the top) to expose the inflamed nerve. That nerve is then severed and removed. During this process, the Dentist will disinfect the entire root area, and use a gentle vacuum tool to remove any additional fluids.
A temporary filling is placed on the tooth for a period of up to two weeks. When no further infection has returned to the area, the Dentist will then apply a filling to permanently seal the interior and exterior of the tooth.
After the nerve has been removed during a root canal, the tooth will no longer be connected to the blood supply within the oral gum. That makes the tooth more brittle. A crown (or reinforced cap on top of the tooth) will be recommended by your Dentist, to strengthen it and prevent cracking or breaking.
How Uncomfortable is a Root Canal for the Patient?
You have probably heard a family member or friend comment that a root canal was painful. In truth, the procedure in most cases causes about the same amount of discomfort that you would expect during a standard filling.
The painful part is the actual infection or abscess below the gum line. Most patients experience a tremendous sense of relief after the root canal procedure. There is some healing involved afterward that is managed with pain relievers.
Patients should know that an abscessed tooth will not get better without dental intervention. In fact, the longer you wait, the more you increase the risk of the bacterial infection spreading to other healthy teeth adjacent to the area.