Root Canals

Misconceptions and myths about root canal therapy

“PAIN”

One of the most frequent comments I hear from patients about root canal treatment is the belief that it is painful. The reality is that the root canal treatment, done properly, should be almost always a pain free experience and is no more uncomfortable than having a filling placed.

So why do stories and myths of painful root canal treatment persist?

Probably because root canal therapy is often the procedure to treat a toothache. Somehow, over the years, the TREATMENT has become synonymous with the REASON for needing root canal therapy.

Root canal therapy evolved over the past 20 years. New forms of “novocaine” and better injection techniques allow for complete numbing of the treatment site. Advances in equipment, instrumentation, and techniques speed the process. The vast majority of cases can now be completed in one 60-90 minute appointment. There is usually minimal or no bleeding. You can return to work immediately if you like. Most patients feel no or only slight discomfort for a day or two after the procedure, which can usually be relieved with just ibuprofen (Advil).

“PULLING THE NERVE OUT”

Another misconception— that we “pull the nerves out” or remove the roots of the tooth or make the tooth dead. Not true! Root canal is removal of small amounts of inflamed and/or infected tissue inside the tooth root, and disinfection of the same areas. Yes, that tissue has nerve fibers, but much of it has nothing to do with nerves. The pain relief comes primarily from eliminating inflamed, swollen and infected tissue, not ‘removing nerves’. Though small amounts of nerve tissue are cleared, the tooth is still alive and is nourished by the gums and bone that keep the tooth in your mouth. And the roots remain as well. We don’t remove the root.

“ROOT CANAL” JUST SOUNDS BAD

Yet another reason I suspect that root canal treatment has a bad reputation is that the name “root canal treatment” just sounds bad. You might hesitate to give a simple blood sample if you heard it was called a “Venipuncture”. Food companies are now marketing prunes as “dried plums” because it sounds better. The technical name for root canal treatment is ENDODONTIC treatment. See, it already sounds better! And hopefully, you now feel better about the procedure.

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