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How to choose your ideal endodontist: the guide from Sonia Chopra, DDS, a tooth saver

When you need a root canal, it might be tricky to know which dental professional to see, and there’s a lot of harmful misinformation out there. How do you know the difference between a provider who can get you out of pain and one who can’t?

By Dr. Sonia Chopra Published about a year ago 5 min read
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My name is Dr. Sonia Chopra, and I’m a board-certified endodontist, or root canal specialist, with over 15 years of experience. As a tooth saver and healer, my goal is to give you the guidance you need to make the most empowered decision for your health regarding which provider to see.

Technology and skill: must-haves when choosing a good endodontist

Root canals are accessible, effective, safe, and powerful. They have the ability to get you out of pain and save your tooth, even for teeth that others might condemn.

However, I have to admit that not all root canals are created equal. While it is not frequently the case, root canals can fail over time, meaning you might need retreatment, another endodontic procedure, or even an extraction.

That is why I strongly encourage you to set yourself up for success with a specialist who has and is confident using modern-day endodontic technology. I like to call it the trifecta of the modern-day root canal: the operating microscope, which lets your provider see every detail of those teeny tiny canals inside your tooth; the 3D x-ray (or “cone beam”), which enables them to see what is happening in your mouth before they even access the inside of your tooth, and the GentleWave system, which uses fluid dynamics and sound waves for thorough cleaning and optimal patient comfort.

Strictly speaking, your provider doesn’t have to own this technology to perform a root canal successfully. Even today, it’s very rare for a general dentist to have an operating microscope; it’s a piece of technology that typically only endodontists have, and even then, it’s not all of them! Though I always ask myself, as a root canal provider, why wouldn't you take advantage of this beautiful technology that makes our work safer, more effective, and more comfortable for you?

Not only do I suggest that you choose a provider who has these important pieces of technology in their practice, but I recommend that you ensure that they also feel confident in using them. For instance, if they have a cone beam but they aren’t sure how to read the images it produces, then it isn’t doing you or them any good. To get a hint about whether or not they know how to use their technology, you can ask them how frequently they use it, or you can directly ask about their comfort level with it.

Questions to ask your root canal provider

So, how can you be your own advocate as a patient? I suggest that you look for common red flags and educate yourself on best practices.

Asking your provider how many root canals they do daily can be a good question. A general dentist typically performs two root canals a week, whereas an endodontist performs twenty-five. Also, there may be certain types of teeth that your provider feels confident performing root canals on, whereas others are outside of their wheelhouse. Your smaller front teeth (anterior) are usually easier to root canal than your molars. I recommend you look for an endodontist or dentist who understands their limits and has the humility to refer you to another provider if they are outside of their comfort zone.

You can also ask your provider if they always use a rubber dam during root canals. Rubber dams are crucial for keeping you safe during your root canal procedure; if your provider doesn’t use a rubber dam with every root canal patient, I highly suggest you seek another provider!

Also, your provider should do a series of endodontic diagnostic tests, such as a cold test to evaluate your sensitivity to temperature fluctuations or a bite test to determine the health of your periodontal ligament. These tests are crucial for getting an exact diagnosis so that you can plan your treatment accordingly. If your dentist simply looks at your x-ray and diagnoses you as needing a root canal, that is another major red flag!

And if they simply spray air or blow water on the tooth as a cold test, that’s a bad sign. Instead, they need to take a tiny cotton ball, put it on a device that looks like a tweezer, and spray cold air on it. From there, your dentist should touch one tooth at a time to see how reactive you are to the temperature change. A great dentist will test multiple teeth, even healthy ones because this gives us a baseline of your normal cold sensitivity.

Scheduling, education, and consultations

When you’re looking for an endodontic provider, you’ll also want to seek someone who has an ethical scheduling practice. Some providers “meet and treat” all in one day, which is generally not necessary unless your pain level is at a 10. Instead, I recommend you look for a provider who provides an initial orientation consultation on one day and then a treatment on another day. Even though you might not want to go to the doctor twice, this will make sure that your provider has your best interests at heart, and it gives you time to bring them any questions you may have before treatment. Plus, it’s always a possibility you may need two appointments regardless. Sometimes providers who start treatment on the same day as the consultation will need to reappoint you to finish the procedure, meaning you’ll need to be numb twice. I much prefer a scenario where no one feels rushed during the procedure!

During the initial consultation, look for a provider who interviews you about your health and symptoms, makes a thorough diagnosis with tests and imaging, orients you to your treatment plan options, answers all of your questions, and then schedules you for your treatment. This is called informed consent, where you do more than just sign a form but truly understand your next steps and what to expect going forward — and it’s a very ethical practice.

It might take more time, but it will ensure you are getting the right treatment for you, saving you money and a headache in the long run. Trust that your provider will be able to help you triage depending on your current situation, and understand your pain level, so they can see you in a timeline that works for everyone.

I hope you are feeling more confident about choosing a root canal provider who will take great care of you. In summary, find a provider with modern-day endodontic technology and the experience and education to use it effectively. Make sure they perform root canals with regularity and that they use the proper diagnostic tests and rubber dams during treatment. And look for someone who is willing to take their time with you, explain everything thoroughly, and values your right to be an informed, empowered patient.

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About the Creator

Dr. Sonia Chopra

Sonia Chopra, DDS, is a board-certified endodontist, TEDx speaker, Forbes contributor, author, endodontic instructor, and founder of Ballantyne Endodontics in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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