Root canal treatment (endodontics) is a dental procedure used to treat infection at the centre of a tooth.

Root canal treatment is normally not painful and can save a tooth that might otherwise have to be removed completely.

The infection at the centre of a tooth (the root canal) is caused by bacteria that live in the mouth and invade the tooth.

This can happen after:

  • tooth decay
  • leaky fillings
  • damage to teeth as a result of trauma, such as a fall

When is root canal treatment needed?

Root canal treatment is required when dental X-rays show that the pulp has been damaged by a bacterial infection or trauma.

The pulp will begin to die if it’s infected by bacteria, allowing the bacteria to then multiply and spread.

The symptoms of a pulp infection include:

  • pain when eating or drinking hot or cold food and drink
  • pain when biting or chewing
  • a loose tooth

As the infection progresses, these symptoms often disappear as the pulp dies.

Your tooth then appears to have healed, but the infection has in fact spread through the root canal system.

You eventually get further symptoms such as:

  • pain when biting or chewing returning
  • swelling of the gum near the affected tooth
  • pus oozing from the affected tooth
  • facial swelling
  • the tooth becoming a darker colour

It’s important to see your dentist if you develop toothache. If your tooth is infected, the pulp cannot heal by itself.

Leaving the infected tooth in your mouth may make it worse.

There may also be less chance of the root canal treatment working if the infection within your tooth becomes established.

Antibiotics, a medicine to treat bacterial infections, are not effective alone in treating root canal infections.

 

What do I expect at RCT?

Root canal treatment is usually carried out under local anaesthetic.

An opening will be made through your tooth  to access the soft tissue at the centre of the tooth (pulp). The infected pulp is removed,

A series of small files are used to shape the canal so they can be filled. This part of the treatment does take some time  and may need to be carried out over a number of visits.

A small amount of medicine are placed in between visits to kill any remaining bacteria. At the next visit, the temporary filling and medicine within the tooth is removed and the root canal filling can be inserted. This, along with a filling, seals the tooth and prevents reinfection.

Root-filled teeth are more likely to break than healthy unrestored teeth, so your dentist may suggest placing a crown on the tooth to protect it.

In some cases a root-filled tooth may darken, particularly if it’s died as a result of injury like a knock to the tooth. There are several ways your dentist can treat discolouration, such as whitening the tooth.

Root canal treatment is usually successful at saving the tooth and clearing the infection.

Around 9 out of 10 root-treated teeth survive for many years.

Having a crown fitted to the tooth after root canal treatment is important for improving tooth survival rates.

If you keep your teeth clean, your treated tooth should survive for a long time.

The survival of your tooth depends on a number of factors, including:

  • how much of the natural tooth remains
  • how well you keep your teeth clean
  • the biting forces on the tooth

But if an infection does return, the root canal treatment can be repeated.

Or if treatment has already been carried out to a high standard and the infection remains, a small operation to remove the root tip (an apicoectomy) may be carried out to treat the infection.