Root Canal: Fear Of The Unknown

Posted by: Charlie Burrows

There has always been a fear of the dentist throughout history and within the public consciousness and of course even for those who are not particularly bothered by the dentists, it’s just not a pleasant thought to have another person with their hands moving around in your mouth. However, it is necessary and techniques and procedures have improved so much over the last 20 years that it can be a much more comfortable experience. Certain treatments are easy and some are trickier but overall with the right approach and the right equipment, it doesn’t have to be a chore to visit the dentist. 

Unfortunately, there are some circumstances which require more involved treatment which can be daunting to many and over the years one particular treatment has gained a reputation; the root canal.


Root Canal System

The root canal system includes dental pulp and runs from the crown to the end of the root and many teeth have more than one root canal system. The root runs into the jawbone and connects the teeth in position.

The root canal treatment is needed when there is tooth decay and an infection caused by bacteria in the mouth. Damage to the tooth or just decay over time can result in an infection which runs to the centre of the tooth and can also affect the gum. At this point a root canal is the best option to save the tooth and prevent further infection.

It’s the pulp of the tooth that can be damaged by bacterial infection and then this in turn can spread through the root canal system. Symptoms following an infection can include:

  • Pain when chewing
  • Facial swelling and soreness
  • Discoloration of the tooth
  • Swelling gums



The treatment itself isn’t as bad as many think. The myth of root canal has spread and grown to something altogether different and actually, the treatment is not as complicated or as painful as some would suggest. Essentially, removing the bacteria is the aim of the treatment and we always suggest trying to keep the tooth. Once removed, the tooth is sealed by a filling or a crown and the most important thing, is for the tooth to be saved. So where’s the pain? It’s true that some people have different thresholds for pain but it’s important that an anaesthetic is given, in order to numb the surrounding area. This will numb the nerves which can be the most painful part but depending on the dentist, an anaesthetic gel will be given to freeze the gum even before the injection is given to numb the area. Essentially, this gives the same feeling as a filling or other mild treatment but the worst of it is probably when the anaesthetic wears off, leaving only a slight throbbing or mild discomfort to the gum.


Mythic Quality

For some reason, the myth was twisted over time into root canals being all about teeth being pulled out and the depths of the gum being scooped out. This is absolutely incorrect and so far removed from the actual treatment in most cases. It’s a perfect example of something being blown out of proportion by word of mouth. 

It’s easy for dental treatments to cause apprehension and fear, particularly for those patients who just don’t like injections or any kind of pain, but it’s important that we don’t create a sense of fear unnecessarily because it does impact the general attendance of dental visits. This can in turn create a serious health problem across the UK, where many people don’t regularly visit the dentist or worse, just never go. This results in serious problems and an epidemic of sorts (which we have in children’s dental health currently) and issues such as gum disease, tooth loss and cavity pain.

As a nation we need to put dental procedures into perspective and stop creating fear where there shouldn’t be, especially as it has the potential to cause a real health crisis in the long term.

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