What is root canal therapy?

What is root canal therapy?

Root canal therapy is a dental treatment that can save a tooth that has been badly damaged due to decay, disease or injury. Everyday teeth are saved from extraction by having root canal therapy.
Most people choose to save their own teeth as they usually function and feel better than an artificial tooth. A natural tooth is stronger and more efficient for biting and chewing. It is also easier to clean and maintain.

Root canal therapy is successful in most cases. If the treated tooth is well maintained it will last for many years and possibly for the rest of your life. Root canal therapy will not be recommended unless the treatment is likely to succeed. Times where root canal treatment is not appropriate, extraction may be the best or only option.

Why do I need root canal therapy?

Root canal therapy is required when the pulp is infected or inflamed. This can be caused by:

  • A deep cavity
  • A crack or a chip in the tooth
  • Breakdown of an existing filling or crown
  • Trauma

Symptoms of an infected or inflamed pulp may include:

  • Cold or hot sensitivity
  • Pain
  • Swelling or soreness in the gums
  • Tooth discoloration

All the affected root canals within the tooth must be treated. Each tooth has differing numbers and shapes of root canals. For optimal success, root canal therapy should be started as soon as possible. If the pulp within the tooth is not treated quickly, severe pain and abscesses can occur. If left untreated the resulting infection can damage the surrounding bone. If the tooth does not have root canal treatment it will have to be removed.

How is root canal treatment done?

The affected tooth will be examined and an x-ray will be taken. A local anaesthetic will be given to block any pain. A sheet of latex, called a rubber dam, is used to isolate the tooth during treatment. To reach the pulp an opening through the tooth is made. Using special instruments, the affected pulp is removed. Each root canal is cleaned, enlarged, and shaped. Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial medicines are placed inside the root canal. If a severe abscess has formed oral antibiotics may need to treat the infection. You may also need additional visits, x-rays or medicines to complete the treatment. A temporary filling will protect the inside of the tooth between visits.

If there is any pain or discomfort it should last no more than a few days. If this occurs a mild pain medication, such as Panadol or Neurofen, will help relieve the pain or discomfort.
After the pulp has been removed the tooth is not ‘dead’. The tooth will survive without the pulp because it is nourished by the surrounding tissues.

What happens after the root canal treatment?

To protect the inside of the tooth and prevent further infection, the root canals are filled and the pulp chamber is sealed. A post maybe inserted inside the tooth if it lacks enough structure to support the crown. As the bone surrounding the treated tooth takes time to heal completely, follow up visits, examinations and x-rays are required to confirm satisfactory healing.

Following root canal treatment, a crown is usually advised. It should be fitted soon after the root canal treatment as possible. Typically made of porcelain a crown is needed to:

  • Protect, strengthen and further seal the tooth
  • Restore normal function
  • Restore cosmetic appearance