Root canal treatment, or endodontics, is required when the blood or nerve supply the pulp of the tooth is infected through decay or injury. The aim of the treatment is to preserve the tooth by removing all traces of infection and then filling the root to prevent further infection.
What to expect:
- An x-ray can show the number and shape of the root canals, and also signs of infection in the surrounding bone. Teeth can have a number of roots and some roots are easier to fill than others because of their shape.
- To keep root canals dry during treatment the dentist may stretch a sheet of thin rubber around the tooth, on a frame outside the mouth; this is called ‘rubber dam’. Having this fitted makes the treatment more comfortable.
- You will be given a local anaesthetic, and then an opening is made through the top of the tooth, down into the pulp.
- The dentist then uses narrow files to remove the dead pulp from the core of the tooth and from the root canals.
- At this point the dentist will put medicaments into the canals and seal the tooth with a temporary filling. You will have to return at a later date for the dentist to complete the treatment.
- At the next stage, the dentist fills the root canals. A filling is then placed in the remaining cavity in the top of the tooth. If necessary, at a later date, a crown can be placed on top of the tooth, supported by a post placed inside the filled root canal.
- Root filled teeth can become darker than other teeth over time, but bleaching can be used to make them look lighter.
- Pulp damage can cause severe toothache but the pain will usually end very quickly when the root canal is cleaned out.
- Without a root filling a tooth with a dead pulp would probably have to be taken out. There is also a possibility of infection spreading beyond the tooth itself.
- Root fillings are usually successful (about 90% of the time) and can last many years, but re-treatment is also possible if infection recurs. Occasionally, if inflammation persists at the tip of the root, surgery can be carried out to remove part of the root, clean the area and put in a filling. This is known as an ‘apicectomy’.