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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Advanced technology: Root canals

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If you’ve ever had a root canal, you probably remember it as a very painful experience. Root canals are performed when decay has entered the root of a tooth. Typical drilling and filling is no longer an option at this point. The pulp chamber of the root must be cleaned out and shaped, then a filling material is placed there, sealing the chamber. By the time you need a root canal, decay has reached the nerve of the tooth—the most painful part.

There is good news for dental patients needing root canals today. The advances in techniques and equipment have made this procedure faster and less painful. For endodontists (dentists who specialize in root canals), this is great news. They are gladly embracing these advancements, which are improving the overall result for root canal patients.

Root canals used to involve use of the naked eye and standard handheld dental instruments, which were challenging and awkward to use. State-of-the-art equipment allows the endodontist to be more precise than ever before. In their arsenal: surgical binoculars that greatly magnify the tooth; fiber optic illumination that increases surgical precision; and digital imaging instead of traditional x-rays—which mean less exposure to radiation.

Another recent advance is the application of the operating microscope. This enables an endodontist to magnify the surgical area as much as thirty-two times, making it much easier to see the diseased material versus healthy material. This decreases the risk of ‘missing’ a bit of the decay and the tooth becoming reinfected.

The increased precision enjoyed by endodontists who use these technologies allows them to save teeth that at one time would have been pulled. It also means less pain and discomfort for the patient. Tiny surgical mirrors are a high-tech addition to the root canal procedure that allows the dentist to see each root of the tooth with great clarity. The magnification equipment has allowed for reduction in the size of handheld endodontic surgical instruments.

Ultrasound helps clean the root before filling, using minute vibrations. The ultrasonic instruments that the dentist holds and uses during surgery are just one-fourth the size of traditional dental tools. Incisions are smaller and thus heal faster. Not only are healing times reduced with today’s advanced root canals, but the procedure lasts much longer—most likely for a lifetime. In the past, root canals would need to be redone after a few to ten years.

Materials have improved as well. Nickel titanium has replaced stainless steel for making dental files—the steel files were susceptible to breakage, whereas the titanium files are more flexible. Anesthetics have improved so that the full tooth can be numbed, resulting in less pain felt by patients. Clearly, a root canal no longer needs to fill you with dread. Rather, it has become a more routine procedure that is as comfortable as getting a filling done.

The Alternative to Tooth Extraction

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When a tooth is damaged and/or painful, we may feel like we just want our dentist to pull it out. Get rid of it! But most of the time, this is the wrong choice. While the time it takes to pull out the tooth is only a minute or two, replacing the tooth and having the gums heal can take many weeks and several visits to the dentist office. A good dentist will recommend doing everything he or she can to save the natural tooth. Why? Because nothing that man makes is as durable and effective as a real tooth.

People with a fake tooth implanted often suffer some level of discomfort or even mild pain when they chew, so they avoid certain foods and these are often healthy foods like fruits and vegetables that are essential to your diet. Yet if you do not replace the tooth and leave the space empty, infection and gum disease can result. Not to mention the shifting of the teeth around the empty space. Last but not least, replacing a tooth with a dental implant can cost more than repairing the bad tooth.

Many teeth can be saved by performing a root canal. A skilled, qualified endodontist—a dentist who specializes in root canals—can repair the natural tooth to a level where it is able to perform as good as new. Now before you start cringing—root canals have come a long way. They aren’t near as painful as many people believe them to be. They are considered one of the most feared dental procedures based on surveys, but this is often because of hearsay—people are basing their opinion on what they’ve heard and not on their own experience. Today, new technologies have made it faster and less painful to have a root canal done, and more advancements are happening all the time. Please see our other article on advancements in root canal technology.

When your tooth develops a problem and you experience pain, it could be from a break or crack in your tooth, a dying nerve, or an infected pulp. Having a root canal can repair the tooth and eliminate the pain that was previously experienced. One should always consider a root canal over an extraction and you should not hesitate to ask your dentist some questions. If they recommend extraction, ask them why a root canal is not an option. It is okay for you to ask them to refer you to an endodontist who performs several root canals every day (as opposed to a regular dentist who may only perform one or two root canals per week). Remember—endodontists will have the latest and best equipment to perform the procedure with minimal or no pain to the patient.

Endodontists treat conditions of the tissue inside our teeth. Removing diseased or damaged tissue and filling in the pulp area will not only save the tooth but keep you comfortable for years to come. Saving your natural teeth allows you to chew normally and eat the foods that you like and the foods that you need. By utilizing endodontics, our office provides an alternative to extraction. We always welcome your questions and your inquiries. When it comes to your teeth, knowing your options can make a big difference for your health and your wallet.