Root canal treatment (or endodontics) removes damaged or infected pulp, which is the innermost part of the tooth and consists of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. This can help to save a tooth that may otherwise have to be extracted.
Damage to the pulp is normally caused by deep decay, a deep filling, excessive wear of the outer layers of the tooth, or trauma. The symptoms of pulp damage can include pain, increased sensitivity to temperature, discolouration of the affected tooth, a metallic taste, gum tenderness or swelling. Sometimes, there may be no symptoms at all.
What does root canal treatment involve?
Treatment usually requires several appointments and it will depend on the type of tooth being treated. Front teeth are quicker to treat as they only have one root canal, but back teeth can have up to four, so they will take longer. Appointments are normally spaced over weekly intervals and in between these visits, the tooth is covered and temporarily restored.
At the first appointment, the infected pulp is removed under a local anaesthetic. Once the root canals are cleaned, they are shaped (to allow space for the filling) and then flushed with an anti-bacterial solution to kill any germs.
At the next appointment, these freshly cleaned root canals are then filled with a thermoplastic material, and a filling is placed on top to seal the tooth and prevent any bacteria from entering. Any inflamed tissue in the gum will heal naturally over time.
The filled root canal tooth may then be protected with a permanent onlay or crown to help restore shape and functionality, and prevent further damage to the tooth.
Root canal aftercare
- Try not to bite down too hard on the tooth during or immediately after treatment
- Keep teeth clean by brushing and flossing twice daily
- Give up smoking
- Avoid sugary food
If looked after properly, your root canal treated tooth should prove to be long lasting. Even though the pulp has been removed, the tooth will stay intact because the canals have been sealed and re-infection prevented. However, regular check-ups are recommended so the dentist can detect any potential problems.