Getting to the root (canal) of the problem

Getting to the root of the problem

Just told someone that you’re having root canal treatment? Were you greeted with a sympathetic  face followed by a wealth of  over-imaginative horror stories?

Let’s set the record straight. Root canal treatment does not cause any pain. In fact, a root canal treatment is there to relieve pain. In today’s blog, we’ll uncover the truth by sharing what the treatment really entails and the positive results you can expect.

What is a tooth root canal?

The anatomy of a tooth

Did you know that your teeth are the hardest substances in the human body? It’s not just about chewing your food either; the teeth play an important role in speech and our daily communication with others.

Teeth are made up of three core parts:

1) Enamel: The hardest, white outer part of the tooth. Enamel is mostly made of calcium phosphate, a rock-hard mineral.

2) Dentine: A layer underlying the enamel. Dentine is made of living cells, which secrete a hard mineral substance.

3) Pulp: The softer, living inner structure of teeth. Blood vessels and nerves run through the pulp of the teeth.

Why is root canal treatment needed?

Anatomy of a tooth explained

Many patients are cautious of root canal treatment yet they don’t quite understand what it entails. There are far too many myths out there. A root canal is a treatment to repair and save a badly damaged or infected tooth. The procedure involves removing the damaged area of the tooth (the pulp), cleaning and disinfecting it and then filling and sealing it. The common causes affecting the pulp are a cracked tooth, a deep cavity, repeated dental treatment to the tooth or trauma.

If the pulp of your tooth becomes infected, the infection may spread through the root canal system of the tooth. This may eventually lead to an abscess. An abscess is an inflamed area in which pus collects and can cause swelling of the tissues around the tooth.

The symptoms of an abscess can range from a dull ache to severe pain, and the tooth may be tender when you bite. If root canal treatment is not conducted, the infection will spread and the tooth may need to be taken out. Taking swift action is key.

How is a root canal treatment done?

Preparation

Before you have a root canal treatment your dentist will take a series of x-rays of the affected tooth giving them a clear picture of the root canal and the extent of any infection.

You will normally be given a local anaesthetic injection for root canal treatment. In some cases, if the tooth has already died, this may not be necessary.

Removing the pulp

Your dentist will isolate the individual tooth with what is known as a rubber dam, this ensures that the area is kept completely clean and acts as a barrier to prevent  you from swallowing any debris.

Your dentist will then enter the root canal through the crown of your tooth (the top part that you can see) enabling them to access the pulp, which is the softer centre of the tooth. Any infected pulp will be removed and your dentist will then drain any abscess.

Cleaning and filing the root canal

Once the pulp has been removed the area will be cleaned and shaped so that can be easily filled, this is done by your dentist with a series of small files. It often takes a considerable amount of time to do this using an ever increasing size of file. In some instances it may be necessary to extend this part of the treatment over a number of visits to the dentist to achieve the best possible results.

This is then repeated for each of the roots of the teeth. Remember, your front teeth only have a single root but your back teeth usually have more than one. This means the treatment will take longer for back teeth than it does for front teeth.

It is also at this time that your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help manage and/or prevent further infection.

Sealing and repairing the tooth

Once the root canal has been cleaned and shaped with the files it can be filled with a special sealant. In some cases you may also be advised to have a dental crown on top. Root canal treated teeth may be weaker and more likely to break, having a dental crown can strengthen the structure of your natural tooth.

More information about dental crowns is here

Is root canal painful?

You will always be given a local anaesthetic if it is required (unless the tooth has died as we have already covered). The pain which some people experience is actually due to the pressure caused by the build-up of pus. Once this is removed, the pain stops.

Recovering from root canal

Once treatment is completed you should find that the pain you originally experienced subsides – although the site may remain sensitive for a few days. Normal painkillers, available over-the-counter, are often most effective.

There are 4 simple steps you can follow after your root canal treatment:

  1. Continue to brush your teeth regularly, twice per day.
  2. Spend 2 minutes brushing your teeth each time you clean them.
  3. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste each time.
  4. Clean in-between your teeth either with dental floss or interdental brushes.