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Dental treatments: Root canal

A root canal treatment is required if the dental pulp (or central layer) of your tooth has become infected or inflamed and cannot be saved. This normally arises as a result of advanced decay, a deep filling or a severe crack or fracture to the tooth as the result of an accident.

While sometimes a patient may have no symptoms at all, the main signs of a pulp infection include tooth pain, increased sensitivity to hot or cold, discolouration, swelling, tenderness or a metallic taste in the mouth.

A root canal treatment is a successful, safe and long-term way of helping to save a tooth which would otherwise need to be extracted.

What is dental pulp? 

Your teeth are comprised of several layers. The top (outer layer) of the crown is made of a very hard enamel. Underneath the enamel is a dentine layer which encases a hollow centre containing the dental pulp- making up the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue.

This dental pulp runs from the dentine layer right down into the root canals of your tooth connecting the blood vessels and nerves in your tooth with the gum. When this pulp is infected it begins to die but bacteria continue to travel down into your gum causing pain and inflammation.

What is involved in a root canal treatment?

Your root canal treatment will take place over several visits. The length of treatment will depend on you, the tooth being treated and the amount of roots it has. While front teeth normally contain only one root canal, the back teeth can have up to four - meaning that the process will take longer.

Multiple appointments are normally spaced over weekly intervals. In between appointments your tooth will be covered and temporarily restored so that you are comfortable.

  • First stage of treatment - removal of the infected pulp will take place under a local anaesthetic. This will involve the drilling of a hole in the crown of the tooth and a very small, hand or rotary file will be used to remove the pulp. Once emptied, the root canals will be cleaned, shaped (to allow space for the filling) and flushed with an anti-bacterial solution to kill any germs.
  • Second stage of treatment - the root canals will be completely filled with an inert material called gutta-percha to seal the tooth and prevent bacteria from entering in the future. Any inflamed tissue in the gum will heal naturally over time.
  • Third stage - The root canal filling will be sealed in place with a permanent filling or crown.  This will help restore the tooth to its correct shape and allow it to function properly. This should be done as soon as possible to avoid any further damage to the tooth.

Does a root canal treatment hurt?

Your root canal treatment will take place under a local anaesthetic so shouldn't be any more painful than a normal filling. You may experience some slight discomfort or gum swelling in the days afterwards but this can be helped with painkillers. Please contact us if you have any concerns at all.

Many people are scared at the thought of having a root canal treatment as it is often considered a painful procedure. Do bear in mind that any pain you are experiencing as a result of infected pulp or an abscess is likely to be much worse. It really is worth getting the issue sorted before it requires the complete removal of the tooth.

How to care for my tooth following root canal treatment

During and immediately following treatment be careful not to bite down too hard on the tooth so that you don't damage it. When looked after properly your root canal treated tooth should last for many years.

In order to keep all of your teeth healthy it is important to brush and floss teeth for 3 minutes, twice a day. Avoid eating too many sugary foods and visit your Dentist for regular check-ups.

Will my tooth survive without the pulp centre?

Yes. When you are small and teeth are still growing the dental pulp is necessary for healthy development as it carries vital nutrients between the gum and tooth. However, once the tooth is fully matured the only purpose of the pulp is to alert us to infection and damage. Therefore, it is possible to remove it without any adverse effects on the tooth.

Canal chambers are filled to prevent re-infection and a filling or crown will help to restore the tooth. Provided the tooth is looked after you shouldn't experience any problems although occasionally it may slightly discolour over time.

Why not just remove the tooth?

Unless absolutely necessary we would always advise against the extraction of a tooth. There are a number of personal and practical issues that can arise as a result:

  • Lack of stimulation to the gum can cause bone shrinkage
  • Gaps can cause problems with eating and drinking
  • They can also affect your speech
  • Self-confidence can be greatly impaired - particularly in the case of very visible missing teeth
  • Oral health can be affected - with increased risk of gum disease and tooth decay due to bacteria that can collect in gaps

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