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Understanding Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment (or endodontic treatment) is the procedure we use to save teeth if they become infected at the root. In order to understand this process, let’s look at the basic structure of a tooth:

Enamel – the top layer and the hardest one

Dentine – slightly softer tissue found beneath the enamel

Pulp chamber and root canals – this is where the nerves and blood vessels that keep your teeth alive are found; they connect the tooth to your jawbone

So how might a root canal become infected?

A root canal could become infected as a result of deep decay, a broken filling or trauma to the tooth caused by a fall, for example. If bacteria manage to enter the pulp chamber they will multiply and infect the root canal (or canals, your front teeth usually have one and molars have multiple canals). This is when you will start to experience pain, because the pressure from the inflammation of the pulp is trapped inside the root. If the infection spreads through the bottom of the root, this can cause an abscess in the jaw, which will be very painful.

How can we stop the pain?

Permanent teeth can be retained without the tissue in your canals, so if they become infected the infected tissue can be removed to relieve your pain and save your tooth. You will then need to have a procedure carried out by your dentist or endodontist (specialist in root canal treatments) to do this and seal the tooth to prevent recontamination.

Does root canal treatment hurt?

Many people worry that endodontic procedures are painful, but this really isn’t true, they actually stop the pain that infected root canals cause. Root canal treatment is performed under local anaesthetic so you won’t feel anything during the operation. You may experience some discomfort afterwards, as you will have to have your mouth open for a long time, but appropriate post-operative instructions will be given.

What happens in a root canal operation?

  1. We will place a stretchy rubber sheet over the infected tooth and pierce the sheet to isolate the tooth from the rest of your mouth, keeping it sterile during the procedure
  2. We will then drill a small hole in the surface of the tooth to allow access to the pulp chamber
  3. We will remove the infected tissue and clean the root canals with antiseptic and antibacterial solutions
  4. We will shape the root canals to make space for a filling and sealant
  5. You may then need a crown to fully restore your tooth
  6. We may prescribe antibiotics to treat or prevent infection
  7. You might feel some minor discomfort for a few days after the procedure, but this can normally be managed with over-the-counter painkillers

In the few days after your root canal treatment, you will need to be careful what you eat because you may still feel some soreness from the infection. You should continue to care for your root-treated tooth in the same way as all your other teeth. This means brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, cutting down on sugary foods and drinks and consuming them only at meal times if possible. Of course it’s also important for your dental wellbeing to visit the dentist every six months, and to let us know if you’re experiencing any problems so that we can work with you to resolve them.


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I totally trust the dentists’ abilities and recommendations – preventative and corrective care – not invasive. They provide excellent all - round care with special care for nervous patients – not too invasive.

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