Advanced technology: Root canals

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.