What is root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment (also known as a root canal filling) is used to treat infection occurring inside of a tooth.

During root canal treatment, the space where the nerve lives inside the tooth is cleaned and the tooth is disinfected.

Tooth diagram

Why would I need a root canal treatment?

The nerve inside your tooth may have become damaged by decay, a deep or fractured filling or trauma to the tooth, causing it to become inflamed and angry. It may be causing you a lot of pain and, in some cases, can cause swelling around the tooth.

What is the root filled with?

The most common form of root filling material is called gutta percha. It is a rubbery material that is shaped into cones that closely fill the space inside the tooth once the tooth is disinfected.

Will root canal treatment hurt?

Local anaesthetic (an injection) will be used to ‘numb’ the tooth, so treatment should be painless. In some cases, such as those with a lot of infection or very inflamed nerves, extra anaesthetic may be required to make the tooth numb. In other cases, when the nerve has already died off or been removed, less anaesthetic may be required.

What does my dentist do?

What does your dentist do for a root canal filling?

Once the tooth is made numb, a rubber sheet known as a ‘rubber dam’ will be placed over the tooth, to protect and isolate it during treatment. Your dentist will open the tooth to find the space where the nerve lies. The nerve will be removed, and the space left behind will be shaped and filled with the gutta percha material mentioned above.

A number of x-rays are required to check the length of the roots of the tooth and the quality of the root canal.

It is important to know that these are long appointments and more than one visit may be required. If this is the case, a temporary filling will be placed between visits.

Won’t antibiotics get rid of the infection?

Antibiotics may give short term relief but the pain and swelling is likely to come back. It is important to remove the source of the infection so it does not return. Root canal treatment removes the nerve and the source of the infection.

Some cases will require extra help from antibiotics. The most up-to-date guidelines advise that antibiotics are only required if your face is swollen, the infection is spreading or you have a fever – all of which your dentist will be able to check in the surgery.

Will I need any extra treatment after root canal treatment?

When the root canal treatment is finished, a filling is placed to cover the area that has been worked on.

In cases where there is very little natural tooth left, a crown may be required. A crown will reduce the risk of the tooth fracturing and is an important addition to protect your new root canal treatment.

It is also important that you continue to attend for regular check-ups after your root canal treatment is finished. Your dentist will take x-rays every so often to check that the infection is healing as it should be. This can be a slow process and requires monitoring over time.

Will root canal treatment work?

Unfortunately, there is a chance that your root canal treatment could fail despite the best efforts of your dentist. The success rate of root canal treatment varies from 75-85%.

Failure of root canal treatment can be caused by persistent bacteria, a fractured root, root fillings that are too short or too thin or bacteria that get back into the tooth.

If your root canal fails, there are a number of options to explore. You could have the root canal repeated or surgery at the end of the roots. Alternatively, the tooth could be extracted and other options discussed to fill the space.

What are the alternative treatments?

An alternative to root canal would be to have the tooth removed. In this case, there will be a space left afterwards. There are several ways to fill the space, including a denture, bridge or dental implant. The options for filling a space are on a case-by-case basis and would be discussed with your dentist after a full assessment of your teeth and mouth.

Ultimately, it is your tooth, and it is important to make an informed decision that is right for you!

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