A root canal is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or becomes infected. During the procedure, the nerve and pulp are removed and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed. Without root canal treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected and abscesses may form, increasing the likelihood of losing the tooth altogether.
“Root canal” is the term used to describe the natural space/ cavity within the centre of the tooth. The pulp or pulp chamber is the soft area within this space. The tooth’s nerve also lies within the root canal.
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Your mouth is more than just a pretty smile. It’s also a gateway to your overall health. Keeping that gateway clean may keep you healthier longer — and looking younger. Just as white, straight teeth convey youth, a smile with crooked, discoloured, worn, or missing teeth is associated with an aged look.
A tooth’s nerve is not vitally important to a tooth’s health and function after the tooth has emerged through the gums. Its only function is sensory — to provide the sensation of hot or cold. The presence or absence of a nerve will not affect the day-to-day functioning of the tooth.
Damage to the Pulp
When a tooth’s nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, it breaks down and bacteria begin to multiply within the pulp chamber. The bacteria and other decayed debris can cause an infection or abscessed tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of the roots of the tooth. An abscess occurs when the infection spreads all the way past the ends of the roots of the tooth. This can cause raging toothache. In addition to an abscess, an infection in the root canal of a tooth can cause:
Swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head. This can be life threatening in some situations.
Bone loss around the tip of the root
Drainage problems extending outward from the root. A hole can occur through the side of the tooth with drainage into the gums or through the cheek with drainage through the skin.
Root canal treatments are complex, technically demanding procedures. They involve negotiating the root canal of the offending tooth using very fine specialised instruments. The canal system is cleaned mechanically and chemically. The canal is then filled and sealed with a special rubber called Gutta Percha. A filling or restoration may be placed over the Gutta Percha to provide a further seal.
A tooth that has had a root canal often is one that has a large filling or extensive decay or other weakness, a crown, crown and post, or other restoration often needs to be placed on the tooth to protect it, prevent it from breaking, and restore it to full function. This will be discussed prior to embarking on the root treatment. We have invested in the latest equipment, including rotary endodontic motors to provide successful root canal treatments as effectively as possible.
When should you have a root canal?
Persistent pain, it may come and go or it could be continuous but this is pain that just doesn’t go away. The pain may be in your face which is called referred pain, in the jaw or deep in the bone beneath your tooth. The pain will need to be investigated by a dentist as there are lots of other potential causes such as a damaged filling, a cavity and even gum disease
Sensitivity to heat and cold when you drink a hot drink or eat something cold like ice-cream. The sensitivity can range from a dull ache to sharp, stabbing pain. Sensitivity to hot and cold can indicate that the blood vessels or nerves in your tooth are damaged or infected
Discolouration which can have several causes but a breakdown of the internal tissue can damage the roots and the tooth will present with a grey/black appearance, easier to spot with a front tooth rather than one further back. Tooth pulp will die when there is an inadequate blood supply, a possible trigger for a root canal treatment
Swollen gums alongside a painful tooth can be a sign of an underlying issue that require root canal treatment. The swelling may come and go and is not always permanent. Swelling can be caused by acidic waste products consistent of dead pulp tissues or it can present as a pimple on the gumline often called a gum boil
Pain to the touch or when you eat can indicate tooth decay or nerve damage which can be treated with a root canal. This is more likely to be the case if the sensitivity persists and doesn’t go away when you stop eating
A cracked or chipped tooth can allow bacteria to get a hold resulting in inflammation and infection. Teeth can be damaged through a contact sport or by chewing or crunching something firm like hard toffee or a Brazil nut
Tooth mobility can be caused by several different things but can be an indication that root canal work is necessary
Good oral hygiene and regular check ups will spot many of these issues before they become more serious. Your dentist will discuss with you the most appropriate form of treatment which may include a root canal.
Is root canal treatment painful?
Is root canal treatment painful? A root canal is really like a deep filling and with modern dentistry techniques and local anaesthesia, you will be quite comfortable throughout the procedure.
If you have an underlying infection then the dentist may prescribe antibiotics first to control the infection before the root canal treatment takes place. This will also help reduce any pain.
A root canal treatment is similar to a large filling but it takes longer as the dentist has to clean out the decay and then disinfect the roots before filling them in. Infection is prevented from spreading into the rest of your mouth as the dentist uses a rubber dam around the root canal tooth.
You may experience soreness or tenderness after the root canal which can be easily managed with over the counter pain relief and anti-inflammatories. Generally, most people experience a little post-treatment discomfort but this is usually far less serious than the pain they have been experiencing from the troublesome tooth before the treatment.
How is a root canal done?
Some preparation is required before root canal treatment can take place. The first stage is to take X-rays of the affected tooth to build up a clear picture of the nature and extent of the problem.
Usually, root canal work is undertaken with effective anaesthesia but if the tooth has died and there is no longer any sensitivity then it may not be necessary to use a local anaesthetic.
The dentist will place a dental dam around the affected tooth; this is a rubber barrier to keep the tooth dry during treatment and to prevent any infected material from spilling over into the rest of your mouth. The affected tooth is opened through the crown which is the flat part on the top to access the tooth pulp which is the soft tissue in the centre. The infected pulp is removed and if there is an abscess, the dentist will drain this at the same time.
After the pulp has been removed, the dentist will enlarge and clean the root canal. The root canal is usually very narrow which can make it difficult to fill unless it is made bigger. This is done using a series of small files which enlarge the canals and also turn them into a regular shape ready for filling. Root canal work is not usually carried out over one visit, the pre-examination and X rays make take up one appointment and the actual treatment itself two or three separate visits. The more roots a tooth has, usually the longer the treatment.
Front incisors normally contain one single root with a sole root canal, the premolars and the back molar teeth have two or three roots each containing either one or two root canals. Between treatment sessions, the dentist may leave a small amount of medicine in the cleaned root canal to kill any remaining bacteria and the tooth is then sealed using a temporary filling. Recurring infections or swellings are managed using antibiotics and sometimes antibiotics are prescribed to prevent further infection from occurring.
At the next appointment, the temporary filling and any medication within the tooth is removed and the root canal filling inserted. Root canal treated teeth are more likely to break so the dentist may suggest placing a crown on the tooth to protect it. The dentist will reduce the size of the tooth and use the crown to replace what has been removed. Sometimes root canal treated teeth may darken so the dentist can use different ways to treat discolouration such as teeth whitening processes.