What is root canal treatment?
Root canal treatment (or endodontics) removes damaged or infected pulp, which is the innermost part of the tooth and consists of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. This can help to save a tooth that may otherwise have to be extracted.
Damage to the pulp is normally caused by deep decay, a deep filling, excessive wear of the outer layers of the tooth, or trauma. The symptoms of pulp damage can include pain, increased sensitivity to temperature, discolouration of the affected tooth, a metallic taste, gum tenderness or swelling. Sometimes, there may be no symptoms at all.
Elective root canal treatment
Sometimes it is necessary to perform root canal treatment on healthy teeth. This is called “Elective Endodontics” and is carried out in situations such as:
- When there is not enough tooth substance present to hold a restoration (such as a crown), a dentist might recommend root canal treatment of the pulp of the tooth, followed by a “post and core” where the pulp is replaced by a metal/fibre post so that the tooth can hold the crown.
- When a dentist needs to maintain the roots of a tooth (e.g. to support a denture)
- In some cases a root canal can fail and need retreatment, sometimes years after the procedure. This can happen for a variety of reasons; your dentist will be able to explain to you why this has happened and the best course of action.
What does treatment involve?
Treatment usually requires several appointments and it will depend on the type of tooth being treated. Front teeth are quicker to treat as they only have one root canal, but back teeth can have up to four, so they will take longer. Appointments are normally spaced over weekly intervals and in between these visits, the tooth is covered and temporarily restored.
At the first appointment, the infected pulp is removed under a local anaesthetic. Once the root canals are cleaned, they are shaped (to allow space for the filling) and then flushed with an anti-bacterial solution to kill any germs.
At the next appointment, these freshly cleaned root canals are then filled with a thermoplastic material, and a filling is placed on top to seal the tooth and prevent any bacteria from entering. Any inflamed tissue in the gum will heal naturally over time.
The filled root canal tooth will then need to be protected with a permanent onlay or crown to help restore shape and functionality, as well as prevent further damage to the tooth.
Looking after your treated tooth
If looked after properly, your root canal treated tooth should remain trouble-free and last a long time.
Even though the pulp has been removed, the tooth will stay intact as the canals have been sealed and re-infection prevented. Regular check-ups are recommended so any problems can be detected early.
- Try not to bite down too hard on the tooth during or immediately after treatment
- Keep teeth clean by brushing and flossing twice daily
- Give up smoking
- Avoid sugary food