Root Canal Treatment

Published:June 6th, 2012

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What is the root canal?

The root canal is the area within the centre of the tooth, containing the pulp chamber and the pulp. The nerve of the tooth is within this centre and its purpose is to tell you whether food is hot or cold. Having it removed isn’t detrimental to the functioning of the tooth.

What does a root canal treatment involve?

Root canal treatment is a very common procedure that used to save and repair a tooth that has become infected or badly decayed. It has a reputation of being a painful treatment, but in fact it shouldn’t cause you any more discomfort than having a normal filling.

The procedure involves removing the pulp from inside the tooth, before cleaning out and sealing the resulting space. If there is a lot of infection your dentist may recommend a course of antibiotics or will apply a topical antibiotic, and sometimes they may temporarily fill the pulp chamber before sealing it permanently. This is to make sure all the infection is completely removed.

This type of treatment can be performed by your dentist or an endodontist who is a specialist in this type of treatment. Your dentist will need to take an x-ray to determine the shape of a root canal, and to see if there are any signs of infection in the surrounding structures. They’ll anaesthetise the area before drilling a hole into the tooth to access the pulp. The pulp chamber is cleaned out using special root canal files. After the tooth has been filled then it can be restored.

Quite often teeth which require root canal treatment have become substantially decayed, or may have already had a large filling or other type of restoration. It may be necessary to have a crown fitted to protect the tooth.

What happens if the pulp isn’t removed?

If the root canal treatment is not carried out, then the tissue surrounding the tooth is at risk of becoming infected, and this is the way abscesses form. It can be incredibly painful to suffer from a dental abscess. An abscess is a pocket that fills with pus right at the root of the tooth. This can create swelling, and if the pressure builds up then the abscess can even create a hole in the gums.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

Sometimes there can be infection without feeling any pain, but other symptoms include feeling severe toothache, especially when chewing, or feeling extra sensitivity to hot or cold foods. You might also notice the tooth is becoming darker, and sometimes it’s possible to see a swelling in the gums, or to even notice a pimple forming due to the pus underneath the skin.

Success rates for root canal treatments

Root canal treatment is a very successful way of helping to save and restore a tooth, and the success rate is around 95% which is incredibly high. Many people who have received this treatment will find the restored tooth will last a lifetime. Like any treatment there is always the risk that something could go wrong.

Common reasons include having another infection, or having a defective dental restoration that allows bacteria to contaminate the area, or suffering a crack in the root of the tooth. If this happens the tooth can be retreated, and a common procedure is to have an apicoectomy, which is the removal of the very root of the tooth to relieve the pressure and inflammation caused by infection.

About the author

Alison, is a UK born and educated dental professional with over 25 years experience.

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