A Guide to Root Canal Treatment

It goes without saying that root canal treatment has got a bad reputation. It has become widely thought of as one of the most painful types of dental treatments that a patient can go through. The very phrase can strike fear into many people and it is not unheard of for patients to ask to have their tooth removed rather than face root canal treatment. So is it really as bad as people say? Let’s take a look at exactly what the treatment involves.

Root canal treatment is also called endodontics. Root canal treatment is required when tooth decay has broken through the outer enamel and dentin layers and infected the heart of the tooth.

The aim of your dentist should always be to try and save your natural teeth and avoid extractions. The reason for this is because removing natural teeth leaves gaps which can cause the other teeth to compensate. It can therefore affect your bite and cause a host of other affiliated problems as a result.

But what happens when a tooth has become infected right in the centre? Surely there is no avoiding an extraction, as the pulp is infected. Essentially, this means that the nerves at the heart of the tooth are slowing dying. Not to mention the fact that you will probably also be experiencing great pain.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that most people just want a quick fix – extraction!  However, while extraction may remove the offending tooth, it is not the best option in the long term. Therefore, the majority of dentists will prefer to try root canal surgery first. This way, the infection can be cleared and the tooth can be kept in place.

What does the procedure involve? The inner part of your tooth, which contains nerve endings and blood vessels, is called the pulp. A passageway connects the pulp to the jawbone and the rest of the body, and this passageway is called the root canal. When the pulp becomes infected, the danger is that the infection can travel down the root canal and form an abscess. This can be extremely painful.

Root canal treatment is performed with the patient under local anaesthetic. It will usually take a number of visits. First of all, your dentist will drill down into the top of the tooth until the root is reached. The infection and decay are then scraped out until the tooth is clean. Of course, this cannot be down without also removing the pulp.

If there is only a small amount of infected matter and the structure of the tooth remains sound, your dentist may be able to simply seal up the cavity with a filling. In many cases, however, the tooth will be too decayed at this point for a standard cavity filling to seal the tooth adequately.

If this is the case, the dentist will normally pack the tooth with a substance named gutta percha. Gutta Percha is a latex derivative that fills the gap in the tooth where the pulp has been removed. As the pulp has gone, the tooth no longer has any connection to the bodies blood supply via the root canal. Therefore, the tooth is effectively dead.

This means that, even though the dead tooth can remain in place and continue to function, it is more vulnerable to being knocked out and damaged than  your healthy teeth. Your dentist must therefore perform one final stage of the root canal treatment – the tooth requires a crown. The crown will help to seal the whole of the tooth, so that no it will not continue to decay any further. It will also help to protect it, so that it will continue to stay in place in the future.

Hopefully, that has provided a more reassuring overview of root canal treatment. In modern dentistry, it is very much a routine procedure that is performed by the majority of dental practitioners. What’s more, the myth about root canal treatment being painful is not true. As it is performed under local anaesthetic, you should feel no more discomfort than when you have a standard filling.