The difference between having a cavity and needing a root canal

You are experiencing sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks.  You have some pain near one tooth or along your jaw.  You suspect you have a cavity and head to your dentist for a checkup…but you are surprised to find out that your dentist recommends a root canal instead! What is the difference between a fillable cavity and a tooth that needs a root canal?  Let’s take a closer look at the facts:

A filling is a fitting solution for a cavity that is caused by tooth decay.  Cavities can range in severity, but cavity damage to a tooth is different than a tooth that is damaged to the point of requiring a root canal. When you need a root canal, it is because there is an infection present deep in the tooth, and the nerve is also impacted by the infected state. If your decay is closer to the surface of your tooth and does not impact the pulp or nerves of your tooth, a simple filling will suffice. But if the decay goes deeper into the tooth, a root canal may be necessary.

It is important to remember that not all tooth pain or sensitivity means that you have a cavity or need a root canal. There can be a variety of causes.  If you ever experience tooth pain or discomfort, please contact your dentist.  Not all tooth discomforts require treatment, but if you do have decay or another concern – if left unchecked, you could experience severe complications.

What to expect if you need a root canal

If your dentist determines that you need a root canal, you can expect that the process will take two or more dental visits.  Root canals are a complicated process.  During the multi-step procedure, you dentist will administer a dental shot to numb the affected area. Nitrous gas may also be used to help you relax if you suffer from dental anxiety. Once the tooth area has been prepped, your dentist will remove the decay, inflamed toot pulp and nerves from the tooth. A filling will be used to close the opening created in the tooth, and your dentist will fit and place a crown over the tooth to protect it.  Since the pulp and nerve have been removed, the tooth is now considered “dead” and can become brittle and fragile, so a dental crown is needed to protect the remaining tooth structure.

Dental care following a root canal

It is important to continue brushing and flossing regularly following a root canal procedure.   And be sure to schedule regular checkups with your dentist to help you avoid future dental issues.  If you experience any pain or discomfort at the root canal site, please call your dentist immediately so they can examine you to determine if any additional treatment is needed. Medications, age, personal health and other factors and cause tooth decay, cavities and other dental issues even if you take excellent care of your teeth, so is it important to visit your dentist often for checkups to ensure optimal oral health.

Does thinking about going to the dentist give you anxiety? Does the idea of a root canal make you cringe?  Do you worry about the discomfort from dental injections used to numb the mouth prior to dental procedures?  Talk to your dentist.  Many dentists have tips, tricks and tools available to help you deal with dental anxiety.  And many dentists use the DentalVibe tool to completely eliminate the pain that can go along with dental shots during fillings, root canals and other dental procedures.  Talk to your dentist about your concerns. Your oral care team can help you conquer your dental anxiety and prevent the discomfort associated with dental procedures.  That’s something to smile about!

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