Root canal treatment (also known as endodontic treatment) is the removal of a tooth's damaged or infected pulp or nerve. Once removed, the root canal pulp is cleaned, shaped, filled and sealed. If damaged, infected or dead pulp is left untreated, pus can build up at the root tip in the jawbone, forming an abscess. An abscess can destroy the surrounding bone and cause acute pain.
Years ago, teeth with diseased or injured pulps were removed entirely. Today, root canal treatment has saved many teeth that would otherwise be lost.
Common causes of damaged or infected tooth pulp
The most common causes of damaged or dead pulp include a crack in the tooth, a naturally deep tooth cavity or an injury to a tooth (such as a severe knock to the tooth - either recent or in the past). Severe or untreated dental decay, advanced gum disease and habitual tooth grinding (bruxism) could also lead to damaged or infected tooth pulp.
Symptoms of damage
Diseased tooth pulp may cause inflammation or infection and you may experience:
Spontaneous pain in the tooth
Sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink
Loosening of the tooth
Pain when chewing or biting
Swelling of gum around the affected tooth
Emission of pus around the affected tooth
Swelling of the face or jaw
Steps involved in root canal treatment
- Dentist will examine and take a radiograph (x-ray) to assess the tooth. Once the tooth is a suitable candidate to perform root canal treatment. The dentist will anaesthetise the tooth.
- An opening through the crown of the tooth into the pulp. The dentist will use small fine instruments (known as files) to remove the infected/inflamed pulp.
- The files will further shape and prepare the pulp chamber and root canals for filling. At the same time, the dentist will use antibacterial solution to irrigate the pulp chamber and root canals as well.
- Once the space is prepared and cleaned, the dentist will use a rubber-like filling (known as "gutta-percha") to fill the root canal spaces. The canals will be filled with gutta-percha and an adhesive cement to seal the spaces off completely.
- Once the root canal therapy is completed, the dentist will either place a crown or restoration over the tooth, depending on the tooth condition. This will protect and restore the tooth to its full function and aesthetics.
Root canal treatment consists of several steps of care so we generally recommend 2 to 3 appointments to complete a root canal.