Root Canal Therapy or Endodontic Treatment as it is also known is the process where an inflamed or infected nerve of a tooth is removed and replaced with a therapeutic filling. If left untreated the infection can cause an abscess and severe pain. Generally the alternative to root canal therapy is extraction of the affected tooth.
Root Canal treatment is necessary when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, an injury to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess.
What is involved?
Your dentist will take an X-ray image of your tooth to check whether or not you definitely need root canal treatment.
This can help to show how far any decay has spread, if there is an abscess and how many root canals your tooth has.
If you have a dead tooth or one with severely damaged pulp, root canal treatment may be the only way to repair it. However, it’s important to discuss with your dentist what is involved in this treatment before deciding to go ahead with it.
If you do need to have root canal therapy, your dentist will give you a local anaesthetic. This completely blocks feeling from the area and you will stay awake during the procedure. It may not be necessary to have an anaesthetic if your tooth is dead but your dentist will discuss this with you.
Your tooth will be separated from the rest of your mouth using a thin sheet of rubber called a dam. This keeps your tooth dry and protects your airway. It also allows effective cleaning of the root canal system and prevents it from becoming contaminated again, which can cause infection later.
Your dentist will first make a hole in the top of your tooth through which the dead or diseased pulp is removed. The empty pulp cavity is then cleaned and your dentist may also put in some medication to help get rid of bacteria.
It may be that this is all your dentist does at your first visit – if so, he or she will put a temporary filling on your tooth to keep it sealed until you go back for further treatment. However, your dentist may decide to fill the cavity immediately if the root canal infection hasn’t caused you any serious problems.
If you have had a temporary filling, when you go back to your dentist he or she will remove this and then fill the root canals with a rubber material. This is likely to be a putty-like substance called gutta percha. A permanent filling or crown is then placed over the top of the tooth to protect your filled root canal and the vulnerable tooth structure. You will often be recommended a crown made from gold or porcelain. If your dentist thinks it’s necessary, he or she may also place a metal or plastic rod inside the canal to help support the crown.