Saving your natural teeth from pain
Root canal therapy (or endodontics) involves removing infected pulp from the innermost part of the tooth. This prevents the infection from spreading and can help save a tooth that may otherwise have to be extracted.
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Why have root canal therapy?
- Can save an infected tooth from extraction
- Removes a source of infection that could spread to other areas
- Prevents further problems that could be caused by losing a tooth
- Can relieve toothache
- Less expensive than replacing a lost tooth
What is involved in having root canal therapy?
Root canal therapy usually requires several appointments, the total number depending on which type of tooth is being treated. Between appointments, the tooth will be covered and temporarily restored.
An x-ray will be taken to check the root canals and see if there are any other signs of infection in the surrounding bone.
A rubber sheet is placed around the tooth to keep it dry. The infected pulp is removed under a local anaesthetic (if necessary) and root canals are flushed with an anti-bacterial solution.
The canals are shaped with tiny instruments and washed again to remove any debris.
The freshly cleaned root canals are then filled with a rubber compound to seal the tooth and prevent bacteria from entering.
The filled root canal is sealed with a permanent filling or may need a crown to help restore tooth shape and functionality.
Although root canal therapy has a reputation for being painful, the procedure should be no more uncomfortable than having a normal filling.
When is root canal treatment needed?
The crown of the tooth is made up of the hard, white, enamel layer and a thicker dentine layer. Both these hard layers protect the innermost soft tissues of the tooth called the pulp. The dental pulp contains blood vessels and nerves within and extends from the crown to the tips of the root or roots.
Root canal treatment involves the removal of the pulp tissues from the tooth in the event that it gets infected or inflamed. The pulp can be infected or inflamed due to either deep decay or an extensive restoration that involves the pulp, cracked or fractured tooth due to trauma, excessive wear of enamel and dentine exposing the pulp, and sometimes as a result of severe gum disease.
Signs of pulp damage may include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, discoloration of the tooth, swelling, tenderness of the overlying gums or a bad taste in the mouth. On the other hand, there may be no symptoms at all. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can eventually cause pain, swelling and loss of the supporting bone.
What are the advantages of root canal treatment?
Root canal treatment saves teeth that would otherwise have been extracted.
After root canal treatment, the tooth is pulp-less i.e. it has no vital tissues within. However, there are vital tissues surrounding the root e.g. the gum, periodontal membrane and supporting bone. A root canal treated tooth can function normally and can be maintained with routine dental care and oral hygiene measures.
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Frequently asked questions
The best way to look after your tooth following endodontic treatment is to keep up with a regular brushing and flossing routine. Root filled teeth are still prone to decay, so need to be cared for properly.
If looked after properly, with regular brushing and flossing, your root canal treated tooth should stay trouble-free and provide a long lasting repair. Even though the pulp has been removed, the tooth will stay intact because the canals have been sealed to prevent re-infection. Regular check-ups are also recommended so any problems can be detected early.
Although root canal treatment has a reputation for being painful, it is often nowhere near as bad as you are expecting! Root canal treatment procedures are relatively comfortable and often painless as the tooth is anaesthetised during treatment. After treatment, the tooth may be sensitive or tender for a few days due to inflammation of the surrounding tissues. This discomfort can be relieved by taking mild analgesics or painkillers available over the counter at the pharmacy. However, if the pain persists and is severe, or a swelling occurs, you should contact your dentist.
If it is properly cared for, your root treated tooth should function well for many years and cause no issues. In some cases, the treatment may need to be repeated, but this is rare.
The only alternative to endodontic treatment is to have the affected tooth removed, thus eliminating the pain and infection. We try to avoid this, as it is much better for you to keep your natural tooth. An extraction also incurs additional costs relating to filling the gap left in your smile. Occasionally, removing the tooth is inevitable, but we will talk to you about your options in full.