Root canal treatment (also known as endodontics) is a dental procedure used to treat infection at the centre of a tooth (the root canal system). The infection is caused by bacteria that live in the mouth and invade the tooth. This can happen due to tooth decay, problems with fillings and damage to teeth following trauma.
If the pulp becomes infected, the infection may spread through the root canal system which may eventually lead to an abscess. If root canal treatment is not carried out, the infection will spread and the tooth will need to be taken out (See diagram 1).
Local anaesthetic can be used to numb the tooth and the whole procedure should feel no different to an ordinary filling.
To treat the infection in the root canal, the bacteria need to be removed. This can be done by either removing the whole tooth (extraction) or attempting to save it by eliminating the infection with the root canal system (root canal treatment). Before having root canal treatment, you will usually be given local anaesthetic to numb the tooth. The root is then cleaned and filled to prevent any further infection. You will need a permanent filling or crown once the root canal treatment is completed.
Root canal treatment is a skilled and time-consuming procedure. Most cases involve two or more visits to your dentist. At the first visit the infected pulp is removed. Any swellings may be drained at this time. The root canal is cleaned and shaped and a temporary filling inserted to allow the tooth to settle (see diagrams 2 & 3).
While root canal treatment is usually a good treatment option, unfortunately, sometimes it is unsuccessful. This means that the root canal treatment may need to be repeated, may require a referral to an endodontic specialist, or occasionally the tooth may need to be removed. Your dentist will discuss the best option for you, should the situation arise.
Your dentist will discuss all available treatment options and costs prior to commencing treatment. If successful, the tooth will need to be built back up and often a crown may be needed (see diagram 4).