Root Treatment

A root canal is part of a naturally occurring space within a tooth. It consists of the pulp chamber (within the coronal part of the tooth), and the root canal(s). Within this space is soft tissue, such as the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue. This hollow area contains a relatively wide space in the coronal portion of the tooth called the pulp chamber. Leading off the pulp chamber are the root canals which run through the centre of the roots, similar to the way pencil lead runs through a pencil.

The total number of root canals per tooth varies between teeth, ranging from one to four in most cases. A root canal, also known as endodontic therapy, is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or becomes infected.

During a root canal procedure, the nerve and pulp are removed and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed. Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected and abscesses may form.

Why does the pulp need to be removed?

When nerve tissue or pulp is damaged, it breaks down and bacteria begin to multiply within the pulp chamber. The bacteria and other decayed debris can cause an infection or abscessed tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of the roots of the tooth. An abscess occurs when the infection spreads all the way past the ends of the roots of the tooth. In addition to an abscess, an infection in the root canal of a tooth can cause:

  • Swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head
  • Bone loss around the tip of the root
  • Drainage problems extending outward from the root. A hole can occur through the side of the tooth with drainage into the gums or through the cheek with drainage into the skin.

What damages a tooth’s nerve and pulp in the first place?

Nerve and pulp can become irritated, inflamed and infected due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on a tooth and/or large fillings, a crack or chip in the tooth, or trauma to the face.

What are the signs that a root canal is needed?

Sometimes no symptoms are present; however, signs to look for include:

  • Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
  • Prolonged sensitivity/pain to heat or cold temperatures (after the hot or cold has been removed)
  • Discolouration (a darkening) of the tooth
  • Swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums
  • A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums

What happens during the procedure?Root_Canal_Illustration_Molar

A root canal requires one or more dental visits. The first step in the procedure is to take an X-ray to see the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs of infection in the surrounding bone. Local anaesthesia is used to numb the area near the tooth.

Next, to keep the area dry and free of saliva during treatment, a rubber dam (a sheet of rubber) is placed around the tooth.

An access hole will then be drilled into the tooth. The pulp along with bacteria, the decayed nerve tissue and related debris is removed from the tooth. The cleaning out process is accomplished using root canal files. A series of these files of increasing diameter are each subsequently placed into the access hole and worked down the full length of the tooth to scrape and scrub the sides of the root canals. Water or sodium hypochlorite is used periodically to flush away the debris.

Once the tooth is thoroughly cleaned, it is sealed. Sometimes it may be necessary to wait a week before sealing the tooth. For instance, if there is an infection. If the root canal is not completed on the same day, a temporary filling is placed in the exterior hole in the tooth to keep contaminants out between appointments.

At the next appointment, to fill the interior of the tooth,

a sealer paste and a rubber compound called gutta percha is placed into the tooth’s root canal. To fill the exterior access hole created at the beginning of treatment, a filling is placed.

After

After

Before

Before

The final step may involve further restoration of the tooth.

Because a tooth that needs a root canal often is one that has a large filling or extensive decay or other weakness, a crown is often needed to protect it, prevent it from breaking and restore it to full function.

How painful is the procedure?

Root canal procedures have the reputation of being painful. Actually, most people report that the procedure itself is no more painful than having a filling done.

What should one expect after the root canal?

For the first few days following the completion of treatment, the tooth may feel sensitive due to natural tissue inflammation, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This sensitivity or discomfort usually can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. Most patients can return to their normal activities the next day.

Until your root canal procedure is completely finished, that is to say, the permanent filling is in place and/or the crown, it’s wise to minimise chewing on the tooth under repair. This step will help avoid recontamination of the interior of the tooth and also may prevent a fragile tooth from breaking before the tooth can be fully restored. As far as oral health care is concerned, brush and floss as you would normally.

How successful are root canals?

Root canal treatment is highly successful; the procedure has more than a 95% success rate. Many teeth fixed with a root canal can last a lifetime. Also, because the final step of the root canal procedure is application of a restoration such as a crown or a filling, it will not be obvious to onlookers that a root canal was performed.

Complications of a root canal

Despite our best efforts to clean and seal a tooth, new infections might emerge. Among the likely reasons for this include:

  • More than the normally anticipated number of root canals in a tooth (leaving one of them uncleaned).
  • An undetected crack in the root of a tooth.
  • A defective or inadequate dental restoration that has allowed bacteria to get past the restoration into the inner aspects of the tooth and recontaminate the area.
  • A breakdown of the inner sealing material over time, allowing bacteria to recontaminate the inner aspects of the tooth.

Cost of a root canal

The cost varies depending on how severe the problem is and the tooth affected. We will give you an accurate cost before commencing treatment.

Alternatives to a root canal

Saving your natural teeth is the very best option, if possible. Your natural teeth allow you to eat a wide variety of foods necessary to maintain proper nutrition. The root canal procedure is the treatment of choice.

The only alternative to a root canal procedure is having the tooth extracted and replaced with a bridge, implant, or removable partial denture to restore chewing function and prevent adjacent teeth from shifting. These alternatives not only are more expensive than a root canal procedure but require more treatment time and additional procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissues.

Since some of the reasons why the nerve of a tooth and its pulp become inflamed and infected are due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on a tooth and/or large fillings, following good oral hygiene practices (brushing twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and booking regular dental visits) may reduce the need for a root canal procedure. Trauma resulting from a sports related injury can be reduced by wearing a mouth guard.