Has your dentist told you that you need root canal treatment? If so, it’s understandable that you might be feeling somewhat anxious about the prospect of undergoing root canal therapy However, once you understand its procedure you’ll see that there really is nothing to worry about.
What is a Root Canal?
It is a type of endodontic treatment – the name of which is derived from two Greek words: ‘endo’ meaning ‘inside’ and ‘donti’ meaning ‘tooth’. Dentists would normally recommend this dental procedure when there is infection present at the centre of a tooth. A root canal is carried out to remove any infection, to get you out of any pain and to prevent a tooth from being extracted.
There are several reasons when this treatment may be necessary. It could be when:
- Severe decay has irritated the tooth’s pulp and nerve causing swelling and infection
- A large crack or filling in the tooth has caused bacteria to enter
- You have persistent tooth pain or tooth sensitivity
- You have a swollen gum or abscess – usually a sign of severe infection
The treatment involves treating any infection and subsequently, removing the tooth’s nerve and pulp. Without treatment, the gums and soft tissues surrounding the affected tooth may become infected and patients may eventually end up losing the tooth.
How is the root canal procedure carried out?
Endodontic treatment is usually performed over two or more visits depending on its complexity and involves the following steps:
- Firstly. the tooth is examined and an x-ray taken for the dentist to view the shape of the root canals. They will also check for signs of infection in the surrounding bone. If infection is present, a local anaesthetic is administered to relax the patient to ease any discomfort. A small rubber sheet (dental dam) is used to isolate the problem tooth, keeping it clean and preventing any saliva entering during the procedure
- The next step is to drill a small access hole in the top of the tooth through which the decayed tissue, pulp and bacteria is then removed. Then, tiny root canal files are placed into the hole and gently pushed down to scrub and scrape the sides of the root canals and to shape the space for filling. While this work is being carried out, any remaining debris is flushed out with sprays of water.
- Once the tooth has been thoroughly cleaned, a tough latex material called gutta-percha is used to permanently back-fil the root canals. Adhesive cement is placed over the gutta-percha to completely close off the chambers. Then, in most cases, a temporary filling is placed over the access hole to prevent saliva or food debris from entering between appointments.
- Some dentists prefer not to seal the root canals straight away, particularly if there are visible signs of infection. In this instance, medication may be placed into the canals to clear the infection, the access hole will be closed with a temporary filling, and the patient will return home to wait until the next appointment. In both instances, the temporary filling will be removed before the dentist restores your tooth.
- The final step of the procedure involves further restoration of the tooth. A tooth has often undergone root canal treatment because it had a large filling, extensive decay or some other form of weakness which is why a dental crown or other restoration is necessary to add strength, prevent it from breaking, and restore full functionality. If the tooth has insufficient structure to support a restoration the dentist can place a post inside it. Be sure to ask your dentist for more details about the specific restoration that is planned.
Will the tooth need any special care following root canal treatment?
It’s important not to chew or bite on the treated tooth until it has been fully restored. An unrestored tooth is more at risk of fracture so you should visit your dentist for a full restoration as soon as possible. Once the tooth has been fully restored, simply brush and floss as normal, maintain good oral health and attend regular dental check-ups and hygiene cleaning.
The good news is that the therapy is a proven clinical procedure with a high rate of success. Usually, a treated tooth can function problem-free for many years to come.
If you want to learn more, Macquarie Dental can provide more information about the root canal procedure.