What Actually Happens When You Get A Root Canal

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

This video of what happens when you get a root canal will have you vowing to floss twice a day, every day, for the rest of your life. According to the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), there are a number of reasons that people might need to have root canals (Endodontics is a specialized form of dentistry that focuses particularly on dental pulp, aka the soft tissue at the center of a tooth). Root canals are necessary when the dental pulp inside the tooth becomes infected or inflamed; because dental pulp contains blood vessels and nerves, these problems can be very painful. As the AAE website attests, an inflammation or infection inside a tooth “can have a variety of causes: deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, faulty crowns, or a crack or chip in the tooth.”

This video from Interesting Engineering explains the root canal process step-by-step. The AAE insists that, despite the root canal’s reputation of being completely horrible, these days it’s not that bad and is, in fact, “very similar to having a routine filling.” That’s probably true (I’ve never had a root canal — knock on ALL THE WOOD — so I can’t speak to personal experience), but simply seeing the process has me cringing away from my computer screen. I get that when people actually have root canals, they are anesthetized and therefore do not feel what is going on, but somehow the idea of someone drilling deep into my tooth makes my brain short circuit.

Here’s how the process works:

First the dentist or endodontist uses a standard drill, followed by a smaller round drill, to remove decay and access the tooth’s canals.

He or she will then use a very small file to clear out the canals. (This is the part that makes me want to run away screaming.):

When the canals have been thoroughly cleaned, the dentist or endodontist “plac[es] rubber cones covered with a liquid sealer into the canals.”

After packing cones in to make a tight seal, he or she will remove the excess rubber.

Posts may be added to "strengthen the tooth and retain the filling." The rest of the tooth is filled with a soft resin that hardens under bright light.

This tooth is still fragile, so in many cases the dentist will recommend adding a crown.

And, voila! You're tooth is better. This video hasn't convinced me that a root canal is fun, exactly, but I imagine that it's a much better option than living with an incredibly painful abscess in one's mouth. Watch the whole process below:

Images: Partha S. Sahana/ Flickr; Interesting Engineering/ Facebook (6)