Each tooth is made of a hard outer shell that protects the dental pulp, which lies within the centre of the tooth and contains blood vessels and nerves. The outer protective layers can be damaged by various processes such as tooth decay or clenching and grinding that causes cracks or fracture of the tooth. As a result bacteria will enter the pulp and cause inflammation, infection and toothache. Signs of an inflamed and damaged pulp may include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, discoloration of the tooth, swelling and tenderness of the overlying gums or a bad taste in the mouth. On the other hand, there may be no symptoms at all. Root canal treatment is required in order to stop any toothache, remove the infected and inflamed pulp tissue and seal the pulp space in order to prevent more bacteria from entering and causing further infection. It is a skilled and precise procedure that can involve two or more visits in order to complete.
Root canal treatment procedures are relatively comfortable and often painless. A local anaesthetic is used and it should feel no different to having an ordinary filling done. After treatment, the tooth may be sensitive or tender for a few days. This discomfort can be relieved by taking mild painkillers as recommended by your dentist. If the pain persists or a swelling occurs, you should contact your dentist.
Under local anaesthetic an opening is made in the crown of the tooth to get access to the infected or inflamed pulp within. Using small, specially designed files, the pulp space is cleaned and shaped. Debris is flushed away by using an anti-bacterial solution. The pulp space is finally sealed with a rubber material called gutta-percha. If more than one visit is required, antibacterial pastes may be placed within the pulp space and the tooth covered with a temporary filling material. Often X-rays are taken in order to confirm various aspects such as the length of the root. Following completion of the root canal treatment, the tooth will be restored with a permanent filling. In the majority of cases and because a significant portion of the tooth may be missing, a crown will be placed on the tooth in order to reduce the risk of fracture in the future.