Root Canal Therapy
Your teeth have ‘roots’ that anchor them into your jawbone. Inside each of your teeth there is a mixture of blood vessels and nerves called pulp. Pulp sits inside a space called the pulp chamber and this extends down into the roots of the tooth. The pulp chamber within the root is called the root canal.
Preparing for root canal treatment
Root canal treatment is done by a dentist. But if your tooth is difficult to treat, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist. This is a dentist who specialises in root canal treatment.
Your dentist will examine you and ask about your symptoms, including any pain you’re having. They may also ask you about your medical history and any previous treatment you’ve had on your teeth. Your dentist will take an X-ray of your tooth. This can help to show which tooth is causing your pain and needs treatment, and how far any infection has spread. These examinations are necessary for your dentist to make sure that the tooth is not too badly damaged for root canal treatment.
Although some root canal treatments can be completed within one appointment, most are done over two or more sessions with your dentist. Root canal treatment is usually done under local anaesthetic. This completely blocks pain from your tooth and jaw area, and you will stay awake during the procedure.
What to expect afterwards
After a local anaesthetic, it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your jaw and face. Take special care not to bump or knock the area. You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort after the anaesthetic wears off and for the next couple of days. You can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
Sometimes, damaged teeth can’t be repaired with root canal treatment. This is usually if your tooth is badly damaged or if you have severe gum disease which prevents your tooth from healing or being well supported after treatment. If this happens, your dentist may suggest you have the tooth removed (extracted).
If your tooth is damaged, bacteria can get inside it. This causes irritation, pain and swelling. If the pulp inside the tooth becomes infected, this can spread into the pulp inside the root canal. The aim of root canal treatment is to prevent your tooth from being taken out by removing the damaged pulp and treating the infection.
You may need root canal treatment for a number of reasons, including:
Severe tooth decay
Repeated dental treatment on the tooth
A cracked tooth
A broken crown
Cracked or loose fillings
An injury, such as a blow to your mouth
Once the area is numb, your dentist will place a thin rubber sheet inside your mouth. This is called a dental dam and covers everything except the tooth being worked on. It helps to keep the area around the tooth clean and stop the spread of any infection.
Using a drill, your dentist will make a hole in the top of your tooth and remove the pulp. They will clean out the empty hole using small instruments and a liquid to irrigate and disinfect the inside of the tooth. The instruments help to make the canals a more regular shape to enable the tooth to be filled and cleaned more precisely. The irrigating liquid makes sure that all infected material is flushed out.
Once the tooth is clean, your dentist will fill and seal it. Unless the dentist is sure that all infection has been removed, they will put in a temporary filling. You then have a second appointment to have the tooth permanently filled.
If your tooth is badly worn or is at risk of further damage, your dentist may suggest having a crown fitted. This is an artificial cap that fits over your tooth. You’re more likely to need a crown if you’re having one of your back teeth treated, because these are used for chewing.
Having root canal treatment can be uncomfortable because you have to sit still with your mouth open for longer than you’re used to. Your dentist will make you as comfortable as possible before the procedure starts.