Root canal therapy
Root canal treatment is a dental procedure used to resolve an infection in the pulp of a tooth.
It is usually not painful but it is necessary in order to save a tooth that might otherwise have to be extracted.
Why a root canal therapy is needed?
Some bacteria have invaded the pulp and the root canal. The reasons can be a tooth decay, a leaky filling, or a trauma.
A tooth is made up of 2 parts: the crown and the root. The crown is the top part of the tooth that’s visible in the mouth.
The root is inside the bone of the jaw, anchoring the tooth in position.
Teeth also consist of:
enamel – the hard outer coating
dentine – a softer material that supports the enamel and forms most of the tooth
cementum – a hard material that coats the root’s surface
dental pulp – the soft tissue at the centre of the tooth
The root canal system contains the dental pulp and extends from the crown of the tooth to the end of the root.
A single tooth can have more than 1 root canal.
How to know when a root canal treatment is needed
Root canal treatment is needed when dental X-rays show that the pulp has been damaged by a bacterial infection.
The pulp may become inflamed if it’s infected by bacteria, allowing the bacteria to multiply and spread.
The symptoms of a pulp infection include:
pain when eating or drinking hot or cold food and drink
pain when biting or chewing
a loose tooth
As the infection progresses, these symptoms often disappear as the pulp dies.
Your tooth then appears to have healed, but the infection has in fact spread through the root canal system.
You eventually get further symptoms such as:
- pain when biting or chewing returning
- swelling of the gum near the affected tooth
- pus oozing from the affected tooth
- a swollen cheek or jaw
- the tooth becoming a darker colour
It’s important to see your dentist if you develop toothache. If your tooth is infected, the pulp cannot heal by itself.
Leaving the infected tooth in your mouth may make it worse.
There may also be less chance of the root canal treatment working if the infection within your tooth becomes established.
Antibiotics, a medicine to treat bacterial infections, are not effective in treating root canal infections. They can though help to treat infection that spreads beyond the root and causes swelling.
How root canal treatment is done
To treat the infection in the root canal, the bacteria need to be removed.
This can be done by either:
removing the bacteria from the root canal system (root canal treatment)
removing the tooth (extraction)
But removing the tooth is not usually recommended as it’s better to keep as many of your natural teeth as possible.
Before having root canal treatment, you’ll usually be given a local anaesthetic.
This means the procedure should be painless and no more unpleasant than having a filling.
After the bacteria have been removed, the root canal is filled and the tooth sealed with a filling or crown.
In most cases the inflamed tissue near the tooth will heal naturally.
Root canal treatment is usually successful. In about 9 out of 10 cases a tooth can survive for up to 10 years after root canal treatment.
Recovering from root canal treatment
It’s important to look after your teeth when recovering from root canal treatment.
You should avoid biting on hard foods until your treatment is complete.
After your final treatment, your restored tooth should no longer be painful, although it may feel sore for a few days.
You can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to relieve any discomfort.
Return to your dentist if you still have pain or swelling after using painkillers.