Root canal treatment is a procedure used when the damage to your tooth cannot be repaired with a standard filling. This treatment preserves the natural tooth so that it does not have to be extracted.
Root canal treatment (also known as endodontic treatment) is used in a wide range of circumstances. If tooth decay is so advanced that the inner root of the tooth has become infected or damaged, then a root canal filling will be required.
This may be the case if a deep cavity is present. The inner root of the tooth can also become damaged if a tooth is cracked or broken, for example during a facial injury or biting down on hard food.
The most common symptom is toothache. Dental pain may range from mild to severe and vary in intensity throughout the day. Some people find that the pain worsens when biting down on the affected tooth. Other people experience sensitivity to hot food or drink or have tender and swollen gums near the affected tooth.
Although pain can be temporarily soothed and swelling alleviated with an ice pack, anyone experiencing some or all of the above symptoms should make an appointment with the dentist as soon as possible.
The dentist will take an X-ray to visualise decay and conduct a thorough examination to identify the underlying cause. They will determine whether root canal treatment is the best course of action or if a standard filling will suffice.
Depending on the symptoms and severity of pain described when you call the dentist surgery, they may even recommend immediate emergency dental treatment.
If a root canal filling is deemed the most suitable treatment, it may be performed immediately, or a future appointment will be made with the dentist or sometimes an endodontist (a specialist in treating nerve damage).
During root canal treatment the dentist applies anaesthetic and carefully removes the nerve and the pulp from the inner root of the tooth (hence the name!) using a specially designed tool, then cleans and disinfects the tooth.
The next step is to make sure the tooth is filled with gutta-percha material and fully sealed with dental cement to protect the tooth from further infection and damage, and restore its function in terms of biting and chewing. The procedure is very quick and no more painful than a standard filling!
Don’t ever delay seeing your dentist if you have a painful tooth. By getting treatment right away, you will end the pain — and you will prevent further complications that make treatment more difficult and more expensive.