You know the stories … full of verve and hyperbole … they’re the stories of adversity and challenge our relatives just love to tell. There’s Grandpa Joe, who walked two miles to school each day … barefoot, and in the snow. There’s Uncle Sal, who brought in that fish so big they even needed the captain and his mates to help reel it in. And then there’s Aunt Vera’s root canal. Ouch. That one doesn’t even have a story, really … it’s just an expression. One of pain that comes across so vividly, it’s expressed only with a big wince and the sound we make when we pretend we’re sucking soup through closed teeth. Aunt Vera has Uncle Sal and Grandpa Joe beat hands down. That’s some real adversity. But that was then.
In just the last ten years alone, root canal therapy has advanced so far that some practitioners can actually perform the procedure without anesthesia. It’s remarkable. So why all the fear-mongering? There are two big reasons.
First, when you actually get past the story-telling, the main reason people talk about the pain of a root canal isn’t because of the procedure itself, but rather, the infection that necessitates the procedure. When a tooth’s nerve tissue or pulp becomes infected or inflamed due to decay or injury, to put it simply, it really hurts. Often a secondary infection in the form of an abscess can form at the base of the tooth as well, and when it fills with pus, it places a lot of pressure on the nerves in the area. Again, uncomfortable.
The other reason this procedure has acquired a bad rap over the years is because of old technology. In the past, rotary drills required a lot of pressure to clean out the tooth, that pressure created heat, which in turn heated the nerve, causing pain. Also, just the sound of the drill itself created a certain sense of mental anguish among patients that furthered the concept of pain even in its absence.
Those days are over. In just the last ten years, advances in dental technology, not to mention an increased attention to chairside manner, has resulted in root canal therapy that is of no more discomfort than having a tooth filled. Here are some of the reasons:
- Electric drill that spin faster and vibrate less – In the big fight against the whirring, heat-miser drills of the past, today’s drills are winning the appreciation of dental patients everywhere.
- A more comprehensive array of anesthesia – New medicines allow for greater control over numbing localization as well as the length of time needed for anesthetic.
- Digital X-rays and 3-D imaging – The newest dental imaging solutions allow your doctor to diagnose root canal cases more accurately and reduce the potential of mistakes retreatment.
- Microscopic cameras – Used in some offices, such cameras allow for greater examination of the inside of the tooth, and can allow surgeons to give patients a play-by-play of the procedure if they wish as well.
- Less time in the chair — Perhaps the best part? In some cases, the time for this procedure has come down to only an hour or two. All of this technology adds up to less time spent at the office and less angst for the patient.
In a few decades as technology continues to advance, and many more people experience today’s modern root canal therapy, stories like those told by the legendary Aunt Vera will get harder and harder to believe.