Root canal treatment (sometimes referred to as root canal therapy) is a dental procedure to remove an infection inside the tooth. It is a fundamental approach for saving an infected tooth and protecting it from future diseases. Even mentioning the words can cause anxiety without even knowing just what its treatment involves. Let’s look at what it is, whether you might need it, and if it deserves its reputation as something to be afraid of.
What is root canal treatment?
The root canal is part of the tooth. Understanding what is involved in the procedure requires a little knowledge of the anatomy of a tooth. Your tooth consists of a crown (the part of the tooth you see above the gum line) and the roots (the portion below the gum line that attaches the tooth to the jawbone.
Contrary to what many of us think, teeth are not hard, solid structures all the way through. Inside the tooth is a soft centre (pulp chamber) containing dental pulp, a collection of nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. The pulp extends down from the centre of a tooth to the tip of the tooth roots in the root canals.
When the soft dental pulp becomes infected, it is necessary to remove it as the tissue has died. This will stop the infection from spreading elsewhere in the body, which could, in some cases, become life-threatening.
The treatment may differ from person to person. However, there is no need to worry or be afraid of it.
What is root canal therapy and how is it performed?
Root canal therapy, also known as endodontic treatment, is a dental procedure designed to treat infections or damage within the pulp of a tooth. The pulp is the innermost part of the tooth, containing nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. When the pulp becomes infected or inflamed due to decay, trauma, or other issues, root canal therapy is performed to alleviate pain and save the tooth.
The procedure is reasonably straightforward. However, the treatment varies depending on several factors. For example:
- If there are signs of active infection in the tooth, the treatment cannot be started until the infection has cleared up.
- The length of time the treatment takes depends on how many roots and root canals the tooth has.
- To complete the procedure, it may be necessary to strengthen the tooth afterwards with a crown—an additional dental treatment.
Consequently, the answer to the question ‘what is root canal treatment?’ can be different for each patient – depending upon their oral condition.
Root Canal Procedure: Step-by-Step
Treatment typically involves one or two visits to complete and typically incorporates these steps:
1. We take X-rays of the tooth to ascertain whether an infection is present and confirm the number of tooth roots and the path of the root canals.
2. We administer a local anaesthetic into the gum surrounding the tooth. The dentist isolates the tooth with a protective rubber sheet called a “dental dam” to keep the area clean and free from saliva during the procedure.
3. A small opening is made at the tooth’s top to provide the dentist with access to the pulp chamber. The infected material is removed from the pulp chamber and then each root canal down to the tip of the roots.
4. Once we have removed all the material, the empty spaces are thoroughly cleaned and filled with a biocompatible material to seal the root canals. The opening made in the top of the tooth is closed with a temporary filling to ensure the tooth remains infection-free before placing a permanent filling on your next visit.
5. You will return to the dentist after a week or so to have the tooth permanently restored to full function with a permanent filling or dental crown. If the tooth does not have a good structure, we may need to place a post inside the tooth to secure a restoration.
What are the signs I may need a root canal?
Signs can include:
- Pain or discomfort when chewing or biting
- Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold, even if the trigger is removed
- Pimples or abscesses on the gums
- Tender or swollen gums
- Chipped or cracked tooth
- Dark discolouration of the gum
Is the process painful? Is there a reason to be anxious?
The therapy should not be painful. As the mouth is numbed with local anaesthetic during the procedure, you should experience no more discomfort than having a tooth filling. The procedure is likely to take longer, though.
Many people may suffer from pain caused by an infected tooth before the treatment, but this is often relieved by the root canal procedure. There is no need to be anxious about the process. It is a straightforward, standard dental treatment that can save an infected tooth and prevent it from being extracted.
Saving the tooth is good news for you in terms of maintaining the function, cosmetic appearance and as well as for financial reasons. Replacing a missing tooth is likely to cost more than this procedure.
What is root canal treatment, and should I be afraid? – The bottom line
The treatment has an excellent success rate, but our dentists are only too happy to talk to you about your concerns if you have any worries concerning the procedure.
Do you have more questions? Talk to Macquarie Dental and get it clarified.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.