The root canal procedure has undergone a total transformation in recent years, thanks to technology, but those pesky rumors about pain and hours in the chair persist. With President Barack Obama comparing root canals to the federal government bailing out big banks, it’s no wonder that myths and outdated information about the most notorious of dental procedures remain. The President of the American Association of Endodontists, Dr. Rob Roda, says, “Now, it’s a very routine, painless procedure.”
Slowly, that sentiment is being shared by patients. However, it takes them actually getting a root canal in order to see the light. The AAE conducted a survey and found that patients who recently (in the past 10 years) had a root canal were six times more likely to describe the procedure as painless than those who hadn’t. Endodontists say that technology is at the root of fast, pain-free root canals, and this includes advancements like the intraosseous injection. In this procedure, dentists create a tiny hole in the jawbone, right next to the tooth being treated, and an anesthetic is then placed directly next to the tooth. Sometimes articaine (a type of anesthetic) is used, since it has great success in penetrating bone.
Timing is Everything
Today’s instruments help speed up the process, too. For example, files are now created with nickel titanium to make them flexible—the old-school stainless steel has gone the way of the dinosaurs. And most root canals now take just about 30 minutes—a welcome surprise to patients who remember them taking up to four hours. This quicker procedure is an added bonus for patients, since the work can be done in a single appointment, as opposed to several.
Other helpful tools include surgical microscopes and loupes, which are glasses with lights and/or magnifiers as key features, and the apex locator, which is much better at measuring root canal lengths than outdated locators. More precision, more clarity and more information makes this procedure much better for patients and endodontists alike.
The Root of the Problem
According to experts, the number of root canals performed has remained constant over the years because people are committed to keeping their own teeth as long as they can. Implants, while effective, are considered a last resort—after all, nothing trumps natural, healthy teeth. Some dentists even report an uptick in root canals. The Ohio State College of Dentistry performed 1,450 root canals in the past year, compared to 1,366 a decade ago.
Spreading knowledge about the speed and comfort of root canals is critical, since many people ignore tooth pain for as long as possible. Tooth pain isn’t natural, and patients should always consult a dentist if they even suspect something is amiss, rather than waiting until the problem demands more than just a root canal.