So what is a root canal?
Root canal therapy is the process where we remove dead or inflamed pulp from the inside of an infected tooth. We then fill your tooth and cap it with a device such as a crown. This allows our dentists to stop your pain and save the infected tooth (instead of an extraction where we would remove your natural tooth).
Root canal therapy explained
What is the structure of the tooth?
Let’s have a look at the structure of the tooth to make it easier to understand root canal treatment (also known as endodontic treatment). Stay with us here! The tooth is made up of a hard substance called dentine, with a protective layer called enamel covering the visible part of the tooth. The tooth below the gum line is called the root and is used to secure the tooth to the jaw. Each tooth has between one and three roots, and each root can have multiple canal spaces. Each canal has a hollow centre filled with pulp, which is the focus of a root canal treatment.
Pulp is the lifeline of the tooth. It contains living blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue, and helps to develop the roots of the tooth in childhood. An adult tooth is fully developed and can survive without the pulp. This means that we use root canal therapy to remove the pulp from an infected tooth to get rid of your pain and prevent further infection, without losing the tooth.
What are the steps in a root canal?
Step one: our dentist will provide pain relief for the root canal treatment (read below for more information) and then create a hole in your top of the tooth to access the infection.
Step two: using specialist equipment, our dentist will clear out the root canal of any infected pulp, tissue, old or broken fillings, pus, etc. The amount of material removed will depend on the extent of the infection. We will then shape the infected tooth to create a smooth surface within the canal, leaving no place for bacteria to hide. This could involve equipment such as file and drills, and sometimes antibiotics (we can prescribe these if required).
Step three: we will then fill your tooth with a long-lasting material to prevent further infection. We most often use gutta percha – a rubber like substance.
Step four: our dentist will add a crown or other restorative device to prevent further damage to the tooth from every day use. We will help you decide what you need based on your specific case and will ensure that you can continue to use you tooth many years after the root canal treatment.
How long does a root canal take?
The root canal treatment can take several appointments, depending on how complex the tooth is and how long the infection takes to clear. Please allow 2-3 visits to your dentist for your root canal treatment. In the first appointment we concentrate on removing any dead and infected pulp from the tooth. We may prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear up any infection. The next appointment checks that the inflammation and infection has gone and then fills the tooth and prepares it for a crown or other restoration. We will keep you informed about everything that we are doing as we go through the process.
What causes a pulp infection?
You’ll need a root canal if you have an infection of the tooth pulp (pulpitis). Damage to the dentine and enamel of the tooth (the outer layers) can weaken their protective qualities and leave the pulp exposed to bacteria and infection. Damage can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Decay deep in the tooth (including under a filling)
- Untreated cavities
- Trauma to the tooth
- Bruxism (teeth grinding) or jaw misalignment
- Cracks or chips to the tooth
- Severe gum disease
How do I know if I need root canal therapy?
Ouch! If you need root canal treatment, you will most likely feel it. Sometimes there will be no pain and we will detect an infection during your routine dental exam (that’s why it is important to visit us regularly), but generally you will experience one or more of the following symptoms of a pulp infection (pulpitis):
- Severe toothache if any pressure is put on the tooth (such as when chewing or brushing)
- Prolonged sensitivity to hot and cold items
- Swelling of the face or the gums near the infected tooth
- Discharge from the gums surrounding the infected tooth
- Persistent pimples on the gum near the infected tooth
- Chipped or cracked tooth
- Darkening or decolouration of the gums
Does root canal therapy hurt?
The pain you may experience before you come to see us is generally much worse than the pain from the actual procedure! The pain from root canal treatment is generally no worse than getting a filling at a normal dental appointment. We provide local anaesthetic and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help ease the pain (if needed) and will make you feel as comfortable as possible. We have more information for nervous patients here. Rest assured that you do not need to worry about the pain from root canal therapy at Rutherford Dental.
How long does it take to recover from a root canal?
Generally, you can return to work or study after we perform the root canal treatment. We recommend that you do not eat until the anaesthetic has worn off (approximately 2-4 hours). You may still feel some discomfort over the days following the procedure as the tissue around the infection heals. You can manage this with over-the-counter pain killers (e.g. Panadol) if required. If you have excessive pain in the days following the procedure, please phone us at Rutherford Dental and we will assist.
How successful is root canal therapy?
Root canal therapy is a highly successful treatment and at Rutherford Dental the vast majority of patients leave with a fully functional natural tooth (root canal therapy does not generally result in a lost tooth). In complicated or extreme cases, we will discuss your options and make sure you are fully informed of your choices before treatment. Once treated you should maintain a good oral hygiene routine including brushing and flossing to prevent further damage.
In summary, root canal treatment is extremely effective and any pain from the therapy can be managed. Don’t delay seeing one of our dentists if you have toothache. The earlier we treat an issue, often the easier it is to treat and the lower the cost. Rutherford Dental will be able to answer any further questions you may have – ring us on (02) 8355 6344 if you’d like to talk about anything, or click here to make an appointment.