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Root Canal Treatment

To better understand root canal treatment, it is necessary to understand the parts of a tooth as shown in the diagram below. Every tooth consists of a crown and a root. Generally, only the crown is visible in your mouth and the root lies within the jawbone, covered by the gums. In the centre of the tooth is the pulp, a soft tissue which contains the nerve and blood vessels.

Root canal treatment is indicated if:

  • The pulp of the tooth is damaged by trauma, gum disease, decay or deep fillings and therefore becomes infected or dies. This most often causes pain, swelling and possibly tooth discolouration, but occasionally may cause no symptoms. Without symptoms, the problem becomes evident only after a dental X-Ray is taken during part of a routine dental examination. Without root canal, this damaged tooth would be lost.
  • The tooth’s pulp is not infected, but the crown (visible part of the tooth) is extremely weak and requires extensive restoration. In this case, the root canal is used as an an anchor for the restoration.
  • A crown (cap) or bridgework is necessary for a tooth whose future pulp health is questionable. In this case, one would be wise to do a root canal as a preventive procedure prior to embarking on the restorative work.

The root canal procedure is in many ways similar to having a standard dental filling. In the latter case decay is removed from enamel and dentin (see diagram) and then filled in with your choice of dental filling material. In the case of a root canal, the pulp is removed and the root canal(s) are filled with a special material designed to be non-irritating to surrounding tissues. Your dentist or endodontist (root canal specialist) will start by giving you a local anaesthetic. To lessen the discomfort of the injection, a topical analgesic can be applied to the gums.

Today’s dental anaesthetics are very dependable and the entire root canal treatment can be virtually pain free.

Once the tooth is “frozen”, a small opening is drilled into the tooth to remove the damaged pulp. Very small instruments are then used to clean and enlarge the root canal(s). Dental x-rays may be necessary during this stage to check whether the root canal(s) are curved or are following unusual paths, and to determine root length.

After cleaning and enlarging is complete, the root canal(s) are sealed. The crown of the tooth is then restored to allow proper function and appearance. If the remaining tooth structure is quite strong, a filling may be all that is required. If the tooth is weak, an artificial crown (cap) may be recommended.

The entire root canal procedure can usually be completed in one or two visits. The fine attention to detail involved in root canal therapy requires longer appointment times. Dental bite blocks and other devices can be used if it is difficult to keep your mouth open for an extended period of time. Root canal treatment enables your teeth to be saved and has a high success rate. It is always best to avoid losing teeth. False teeth are never the same as your own.