To many people, the words ‘root canal’ inspire fear. After all, it sounds like a painful and invasive procedure, but you wouldn’t believe how wrong they are! When done properly, a root canal is a very safe and simple procedure, and often a lot of anxiety over nothing. So this week, we wanted to show you exactly what’s involved in a root canal, so you can know what to expect and relax!
What Is A Root Canal?
Contrary to popular belief, a standard root canal treatment is not a painful procedure. You are given a heavy dose of local anaesthetic and plenty of time to ensure that it has worked before the treatment is actually started. A root canal procedure might be necessary if the ‘pulp’ (the soft centre that fills the tooth and root canals, holding the tooth securely into the jawbone) becomes infected. In most cases this is not a problem – as the pulp from a mature tooth can be removed safely and easily. But infected pulp can affect the bone surrounding the tooth, and this can cause a painful abscess to form. Root canals are performed on affected teeth in order to save them from extraction and prevent the need for dental implants. A root canal is performed by removing the infected pulp from the tooth and treating any secondary infections present before filling and sealing the empty canals to prevent further infection.
Provided that the tooth is restored properly after the root canal treatment, there is no reason that the tooth shouldn’t last for the rest of your life – preventing the need for any further dental work. However if a root canal is not performed, or the infection is not caught in time, the tooth may have to be extracted to prevent spread and ease pain. Therefore it is important to know the signs of infected teeth so that you can get treatment as soon as possible. An infection in the pulp of your tooth may not always hurt at first, so it can be difficult to spot. Some signs to look out for are:
- Pain when you bite down, or when you touch and pull the tooth
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Sensitivity to cold that lasts longer than a couple of seconds
- Swelling near one of your teeth
- Discolouration – with or without pain
- A broken or damaged tooth
How Long Does A Root Canal Take?
Usually, a root canal can be performed and completed within one session. But in some more severe cases, you might require a few appointments to eliminate the infection entirely. This is usually the case with teeth in awkward positions or those with curved root canals that are more difficult to locate, clean and fill.
In most cases a completed root canal will need a crown fitted – particularly those teeth used to chew. The fitting of a crown will help to restore the strength of the tooth and help prevent it from cracking under pressure. Because each crown is custom made for each patient, our laboratory needs a few days to create the crown, and during this time we will dress the tooth with a temporary crown to prevent re-infection. The whole process will usually take no longer than a week, and you will be able to return home without the need for further treatment.
Treatment Of Existing Root Canals
Quite often we are asked to carry out work on a root canal that has been treated elsewhere. This is a unique treatment option, and may be needed for several reasons, including:
- During treatment the area was insufficiently sterilised, and the contact with oxygen has caused bacteria to grow and the tooth to become re-infected.
- If the side of the tooth was accidentally punctured during the treatment, this can cause additional problems. This is usually the case when the root canal itself is curved or difficult to locate. While the instruments are flexible, allowing them to curve to the canal, the instrument can sometimes make a small hole in the side of the tooth while it bends.
- If a canal was missed or not fully cleaned out and sterilised, this can also cause re-infection. Locating the canals within the teeth can be difficult, and if a canal or an offshoot isn’t located and cleaned out the infection will remain and the procedure will need to be repeated.
- The worst case is that a file used in the procedure may break, and the tip of the file might remain lodged in the tooth. Usually it is possible to leave this piece in the tooth and finish the procedure – but if the tooth is then not cleaned properly the piece may cause further infection and need to be removed.