Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment, also known as endodontic treatment, is intended to save badly damaged teeth as a last resort before extraction.

For all of medical science’s advances in tooth restorations and artificial teeth, nothing beats the real thing. Your natural teeth are your best option in terms of oral health and function. Natural teeth are stronger and more efficient when it comes to chewing. Diseases aside, they’re more stable than artificial teeth. They’re easier to clean.

When teeth are removed, it can lead to a variety of concerns and problems. Adjacent teeth can tip to fill the gap. Surrounding teeth get put under more pressure and can often chip or break. It can lead to further disease and decay throughout the mouth.

That’s why millions of teeth are saved every year through root canal treatment. Most dentists, and indeed most patients, would rather keep a natural tooth alive as long as possible than extract and replace.

root canal treatment - kid in dentist costume

Root canals are successful in the majority of cases. It’s not a procedure that’s recommended unless there’s a good likelihood for success. If the tooth is simply too damaged, decayed, or diseased, sometimes extraction may be the best — or only — option. But before the tooth reaches that level, a root canal is the last best bet to save it.

Why Do People Need Root Canals?

A root canal is used to clean out the inside of a tooth once it’s become infected and inflamed.

The material inside the tooth is known as the tooth pulp. It surrounds the tooth nerve and helps supply the tooth with blood. When the pulp becomes infect or inflamed, it can cause severe pain and weakens the tooth.

There are many reasons the inside of a tooth can become infected.

Some common causes are:

  • Breakdown of a restoration such as a filling or crown
  • A deep cavity in the tooth
  • Physical trauma
  • Gum disease
  • Cracking or chipping the tooth
  • Extreme wear
  • Extensive dental work on the tooth

The most common symptoms are pain, sensitivity, discolouration, soreness, and swelling of the gums around the tooth.

Root Canal Procedure

For the best results, root canal treatment should begin as soon as the issue is discovered. This is one of many reasons why frequent dentist visits are important.

The root canal procedure itself is carried out either by a general dentist or a specialist endodontist. All general dentists are trained in root canal treatment and can perform the procedure.

The tooth requiring treatment is examined and X-Rays are taken. This allows the dentist or endodontist to see the extent of the damage and plan their procedure accordingly.

At the start of treatment, local anaesthetic is administered to block pain. A thin sheet of latex, called a rubber dam, is them used to isolate the tooth. It’s important for the tooth to remain clean and dry during the procedure, to prevent post-operative infection.

A metal file is then used to drill a hole through the top of the tooth to allow access to the infected pulp beneath. Special tools are then used to carefully and thoroughly remove all of the infected material from within the tooth.

Each tooth has several root canals, with the exact number depending on the type of tooth. Each canal is cleaned, enlarged and shaped in turn.

If necessary, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial medicines may be placed within the tooth to help stop the inflammation and infection. After this, a filling material is used to seal the pulp chamber to maintain structural integrity and prevent re-infection.

It may take several visits to the dentist or endodontist to complete the root canal treatment, particularly if multiple teeth need treating at the same time.

After the tooth is cleaned and refilled, an artificial crown is used to finish off the procedure. This crown replaces the natural tooth crown to ensure function and stability. Generally the crown will be made out of porcelain or gold.

Post-operative pain and care

Root canals are notoriously associated with extreme pain. The truth is that post-operative pain is often very mild and generally disappears entirely within a few days. It can be dealt with in most cases with over-the-counter medications. Most of the pain associated with root canal treatment is actually experienced before the procedure, and is the reason why a root canal is done to begin with.

Extra care will need to be taken after the procedure to avoid re-infecting the newly treated tooth. With sufficient oral hygiene and personal care, a treated tooth can last for life depending on how bad the initial damage was.

Unfortunately, while root canals are intended to save teeth, not every tooth can be saved. It’s still sometimes necessary to remove a treated tooth sometimes after the initial treatment.