What is a root canal and when is this necessary? Root canals are a procedure used to treat a tooth which is infected, decaying or severely damaged. The treatment is used to save a tooth to avoid the need for an extraction. The pulp is soft tissue in your tooth which contains nerves blood vessels and provides nourishment for your tooth. This can be infected if you have for example a deep cavity, considerable dental work which has disturbed the area, cracked teeth or injury to your tooth or jaw. If this is not addressed the soft tissue around the base of your tooth can lead to infection. This leads to pain and swelling, and can lead to the formation of an abscess inside your tooth and bone. This infection can risk the health and loss of your tooth as bacteria can damage the bone that connects your tooth to your jaw. You would need to have an examination and treatment as soon as possible, and follow up appointments will also be necessary.
The treatment and what to expect – root canals are a specialised treatment so you may be referred to a dentist who is an expert in the this procedure. This dentist is known as an endodontist. A root canal normally takes one or two appointments to complete. There is little to no pain as a local anaesthetic will be used which means that you will not feel pain from the procedure, or pain caused by the infection, which you would have felt prior to the procedure. You should contact your practice as soon as possible.
To prepare for treatment, your dentist will take X-rays for a clear view of your tooth in order to assess the health of your tooth and bone, and to evaluate the infection. The affected area will then be numbed to ensure your comfort during the procedure. A protective cover will be applied to your tooth to keep it clean and dry and to guard against bacteria which are present in the mouth.
During your treatment, your dentist will drill a hole in the top of the tooth, so that they may remove the nerve from the tooth and the tooth, which is referred to as the root canal. Cleaning of the inside of the tooth will be carried out and also of each root canal and medicine may be applied to kill any remaining bacteria. The root canals will then be sealed to protect against future infection. A temporary filling will then be placed on the tooth to provide protection until a permanent restoration such as a permanent filling or crown can be placed.
After your treatment your tooth and surrounding area can feel sensitive for 2 – 5 days and your dentist can recommend how to deal with this sensitivity. Antibiotics can be prescribed if the infection had spread, these should be taken as advised and for the full duration. You will also need a follow up visit after your root canal treatment. At this appointment your temporary filling will be removed and replaced with a regular filling or crown to safeguard your tooth. A metal or plastic post can also be placed in the root canal to provide stability. This can also provide the foundation for a crown if required.
With the correct care and attention, a tooth restored by means of a root canal can last a life time. You must brush twice per day for 2 minutes using fluoride toothpaste, and you should also floss once per day. You also need to ensure you attend regular checkups and cleanings as advised by your dentist.