Root canal treatment (endodontics) is a dental procedure used to treat infection at the centre of a tooth (the root canal system). Infection is caused by bacteria, living in the mouth, which gets into the tooth. This can happen after tooth decay, leaky fillings, or damage to teeth as a result of trauma, such as a fall. You may not feel any pain in the early stages of the infection. In some cases, your tooth could darken in colour, which may mean that the nerve of the tooth has died (or is dying). This would need root canal treatment.
Root canal treatment is needed when dental X-rays show that the pulp in your tooth has been damaged by a bacterial infection. The pulp begins to die if it's infected by bacteria. Symptoms of a pulp infection include pain when eating or drinking hot or cold food and drink, pain when biting or chewing, and a loose tooth. You may find that as the infection progresses, these symptoms go away when the pulp dies. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your tooth is better, this can happen because the infection has spread through the root canal system.
Eventually, symptoms such as pain when biting or chewing return, with swelling of the gum near the affected tooth. Pus may also come from the affected tooth, and facial swelling may develop or the tooth becoming a darker colour. It is important to come and see your dentist if you get toothache if your tooth is infected it will not get better on its own. In fact, leaving the infected tooth in your mouth may make it worse as there may be less chance of the root canal treatment working if the infection within your tooth becomes established.
Root canal treatment is a skilled and time-consuming procedure. Your dentist will need to remove the bacteria from your tooth. Most courses of treatment will involve two or more visits to your dentist. This can be either through doing a root canal treatment or removing the tooth (extraction).
Removing the tooth is always the last option as it is better to keep as many of your natural teeth as possible, when the bacteria has been removed the tooth will need to be sealed with either a filling or crown. In most cases, the inflamed tissue near the tooth will heal naturally. Before having root canal treatment, you'll usually be given a local anaesthetic. This means the procedure shouldn't be painful and should be no more unpleasant than having a filling.
At the first appointment, the infected area is removed allowing an abscess to be drained. The root canal is then cleaned and shaped ready for filling. A temporary filling is put in and the tooth is left to settle. Your dentist will check your tooth at a later visit and when all the infection has cleared, the tooth is permanently filled.
It's important to look after your teeth when recovering from root canal treatment. Avoid biting on hard foods until all your treatment is complete. After the treatment has been completed you will be given instructions on how to care for your tooth. Your tooth should not be painful, although it may feel sensitive for a few days. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can be used to relieve any discomfort. Call the practice and speak to the front desk team to make an appointment with your dentist if you continue to experience pain or swelling after using painkillers. It is possible to prevent the need for further root canal treatment by continuing good oral hygiene and not consuming too much sugary food and giving up smoking if you smoke.
Sometimes. It is not uncommon for dead teeth to go discoloured after a root filling. If this has happened, please call the front desk team and make an appointment to speak to your dentist.
The root canal procedure itself is painless, the pain they feel is caused by an infection in the tooth, not by root canal treatment.