What is ‘root canal treatment?’

Root canal treatment is a dental procedure which is undertaken to treat the infected pulp of a tooth. The pulp is the technical name for the soft tissue inside the tooth which lead into a series of channels or ‘root canals’ – hence the name.

These canals contain nerves, arteries, veins and lymph vessels which ensure that the tooth receives enough nutrients to keep it strong and healthy.

Not every tooth has the number of root canals. The front teeth usually have a single canal whereas the back teeth or molars will have 3 or more canals.

However, the pulp can become infected as a result of an injury (for example, a blow to the face), gum disease or severe tooth decay.

If this happens then it can lead to an abscess: an abscess is a painful condition in which pus gathers in the canals which causes the tooth to shift upwards out of its socket.

Symptoms of this include swelling around the tooth or in the gums, persistent toothache, fever and difficulty in swallowing. If you experience any of these then seek dental treatment right away.

The procedure itself is complex and requires a high degree of skill on the part of the dentist. It can be performed in the one visit but can take two or more visits depending on the extent of the treatment. If you have an abscess then you may find that your dentist will prescribe antibiotics beforehand to reduce any swelling and tenderness before carrying out the treatment.

The dentist will drill a small hole in the infected tooth before removing the infection. He or she will use special instruments to clean out the root canals, making sure that he or she does not damage any ligaments or surrounding bone.

Your dentist may wash out your teeth, at intervals, to flush out any debris. This will be followed by him/her taking an x-ray of your teeth to ensure that there is no infection remaining.

He/she will then seal the tooth with a temporary filling. If you require more than one visit then you will find that the dentist will remove this filling, check the state of your root canals before filling them with a sealant called ‘gutta percha’. This is an anti-bacterial material which is perfectly safe and helps to permanently seal these canals.

This is then checked via an x-ray: if everything is okay then your dentist will place a crown over the repaired tooth to provide some much needed support.

You will find that your dentist will treat the infected tooth rather than carry out a tooth extraction. You may feel that it would be better to remove the diseased tooth but dentists prefer for patients to keep as many of their natural teeth as possible.

If you require a simple form of root canal surgery then your dentist will be able to do this. If, however, you require more complex treatment then you will need the services of an endodontist. An endodontist is a dentist who specialises in diseases and treatment of the pulp and root canals.

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