01/09/2016  |  
Dr. Travis Stork Gets a Root Canal on National TV

Although the thought of it makes some people nervous, a root canal procedure is nothing to be anxious about. In fact, you have probably heard lots of medical professionals say that it isn’t really painful at all. But how many are willing to have the procedure done on themselves… and filmed for national television?

At least one: Dr. Travis Stork, host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors dedicated a segment of the show to the procedure — and then his crew recorded him undergoing a double root canal treatment. "I did it on TV because I wanted to prove to people it’s not that big of a deal," he told Dear Doctor magazine. But just in case you missed the show, here’s the run-down on root canals.

The root canals themselves are small branching passageways in the center of your teeth. Unlike the harder materials (enamel and dentin) that make up most of the structure of a tooth, these tiny passages are filled with soft tissue: nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. Sometimes this tissue can become infected — due to a fractured tooth, deep decay, or dental trauma, for example. When that happens, the tissue begins to die.

If left untreated, the infection doesn’t go away: It continues to spread, sometimes moving beyond the tooth itself and into the gums and jaw. It can also cause intense pain — pain which root canal treatment relieves. Of course, it’s best if your dentist catches the infection (on a x-ray, for example) and treats it before it becomes an acute (and painful) problem. That’s what happened in Dr. Stork’s case.

Having a "root canal" is also shorthand for the root canal treatment. In this routine procedure, a dentist or endodontist (root canal specialist) administers a local anesthetic to numb the tooth, and then drills a small hole through its surface to access the canals; it’s similar to drilling for a cavity. Next, special tiny instruments are used to remove infected and dying tissue from the passageways, and to disinfect them. The canals are then filled up with an inert, biocompatible material, and the access hole is sealed to the outside.  At a later time, you will probably need to return to the dental office for a crown or another type of permanent restoration.

So is it painful? Most people report that the procedure itself is no more uncomfortable than having a cavity filled. For a few days afterward, the treated tooth may feel tender and sensitive; over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen are usually all that’s needed for pain relief. Root canal therapy is so routine and effective that an estimated 15 million procedures are done in the U.S. each year. And as for Dr. Stork, he reported "I didn’t feel any pain."

Read more of Dear Doctor’s interview with Dr. Travis Stork.