What is endodontic treatment?
Endodontic treatment (also called root canal treatment) is the process where the dentist removes the pulp (the blood and nerve supply) from an infected tooth and replaces it with dental filling material.
Why would I need this treatment?
Your dentist may recommend root canal treatment for various reasons.
The pulp of your tooth can become infected when decay passes right through the hard parts of the tooth into the root canal system in the middle. It can also happen if the tooth is accidentally damaged. When an infection starts it can spread throughout the root canal system inside the tooth, eventually leading to an abscess.
The infection doesnít necessarily stop there. If you donít have root canal treatment it can spread into the surrounding tissues, causing pain and swelling, and your dentist may have no choice but to extract the tooth. It is always better not to have an extraction if it can be avoided.
Remember that you wonít necessarily feel any pain in the early stages. Just because a tooth isnít hurting yet doesnít necessarily mean that it is healthy. As with many illnesses, there isnít any pain or discomfort until the latter stages of the disease and treatment is often more effective and more likely to succeed if started early.
The tooth on the right has a cavity forming - it has already passed through the hard enamel (shown in white) and into the softer dentine beneath. The tooth on the left has a smaller cavity.
The decay in the right-hand tooth has passed right through the dentine to the pulp cavity, causing an infection. The infection has passed down the root canal system, leading to the formation of an abscess on the end of one of the roots (the round red area). The cavity in the left hand tooth has become deeper, too, but it isn't yet causing any infection.
What will the dentist do?
The aim of root canal treatment is to permanently eradicate the infection in the root canal and save the tooth.
The dentist has removed the decayed dental tissues from both teeth. In the left hand tooth, the decay hasn't reached the pulp cavity and the damage can be repaired with a filling. In the right hand tooth, the decay has gone right through to the pulp, so the soft tissues in the middle of the tooth have to be removed to cure the infection. The dentist then shapes the root canal system using special files and cleans it thoroughly.
The tooth on the left has been restored with a filling (the filling material is shown in black here for clarity). The dentist has root-filled the tooth on the right - once the root canal system is sufficiently clean, it is filled with a special material to stop any infection getting back in (the materials are shown in pink and yellow). The upper part of the tooth has been restored with a filling (the filling material is shown in black) but sometimes the dentist might have to fit a crown instead.
Will the dentist use anaesthetic?
Yes. You will be given a local anaesthetic before work begins so that you donít feel anything.
How long is a tooth likely to last after it is root filled?
Root filled teeth often last for many years. It is, however, very difficult for a dentist to completely eradicate the infection inside the tooth. Root filled teeth are also weakened by the decay or accident that caused the infection in the first place. As a result, it is impossible to guarantee that the tooth will survive for a particular length of time.
In any event, the life expectancy of any tooth isn't entirely down to your dentist, but is greatly influenced by factors under your own control, such as your diet and how well you look after your teeth.
If the infection comes back it is sometimes possible for your dentist to repeat the root canal treatment to get rid of the infection again and avoid extracting the tooth.
What does root canal treatment cost?
Guidelines to costs are listed in our Private Fee Schedule. Please click here if you wish to view this.
What will happen if I donít have root canal treatment?
The only other effective treatment option is for the dentist to extract the tooth. This removes the source of the dental infection (and if the decay and/or infection has spread too far this may be the only option). However, it is important to keep your own teeth whenever possible.
If you had no treatment at all then even if the tooth hasnít caused you any pain yet it will eventually do so. The pain from dental infections can be very intense. There can also be unpleasant associated swelling.
Delaying treatment also reduces the prospect of success and it may prove impossible for your dentist to save the tooth at a later stage.
What happens after root canal treatment?
You need to make sure that you take good care of the tooth, just as with all your others. You should:
Use toothpaste and
daily mouthrinse containing fluoride
See your dentist for regular check-ups
Visit the hygienist
If you do these things, the root filled tooth (and all the others) should stay healthy for years to come.