Root canal treatment is a dental procedure that replaces a tooth’s damaged or infected pulp with a filling. The pulp is the tooth’s lifeline. Its vessels, tissue fibers and nerves in the central hollow of the tooth keep it alive. An endodontic treatment is the procedure to replace the damaged or infected pulp.
Endodontic treatments have a high success rate. Generally 90 to 95 per cent of people who undergo root canal treatment can expect a functional tooth after the treatment. If you maintain good oral hygiene, the treated tooth should last a long time.
A tooth is mainly made of a hard material called dentine. Enamel is the surface layer that protects the visible part of the tooth (crown). The part of the tooth that sits beneath the gum line is called the root. The root helps to anchor the tooth into the jaw. Generally, front teeth have only one root, while molars generally have up to three. Within each root, there can be multiple canal spaces.
The hollow center of a tooth is called the pulp chamber. This area contains the blood vessels, nerves and pulp. The pulp is a sensitive tissue that provides oxygen, nutrients and feeling to the tooth. The pulp extends from the roof of the pulp chamber down into the bottom of each root canal. If it becomes infected, the entire space needs to be disinfected.
The main function of the dental pulp is to regulate the growth and development of the tooth during childhood. Once the tooth is fully formed, nutrition for the tooth comes from the tissues surrounding the root. Therefore, a tooth can function without its pulp and, in the majority of cases, can be kept indefinitely. After an endodontic treatment, the tooth’s pulp is removed, but it is not a dead tooth.
Signs you may need a root canal
A diseased tooth pulp may cause inflammation or infection. The symptoms of a damaged or diseased tooth pulp may include:
- Spontaneous pain
- Sensitivity to hot and cold drinks and foods
- Pain when eating
- Loose tooth
- Swelling of the gums
- Pus surrounding the affected tooth
- Facial swelling
Sometimes, tooth pulp may become damaged or diseased without presenting any symptoms. In these cases, the problem is usually diagnosed by special tests or x-rays during a dental check-up or treatment for other dental concerns.
Causes of tooth pulp damage
There are many events that can lead to disease or damage to dental pulp. Some of these include:
- Untreated tooth decay
- Decay beneath a filling
- Tooth trauma
- Tooth grinding (bruxism)
- Cracks in the teeth
- Advanced gum disease
Problems of tooth pulp infection
If tooth pulp infection is left untreated, complications could include:
- Infection spreading – once the pulp becomes infected, it can increase the spread of the infection. If bacteria find their way into the pulp chamber, the bacteria will multiply. This can cause a severe infection or an endodontic abscess (a pocket of pus) when it spreads into the surrounding bone
- Bone loss – the infection may spread around the ends of the infected root canal and erode surrounding jaw bone.
- Tooth Loss – the tooth may have to be removed, which affects the person’s ability to eat.
Diagnosing tooth pulp problems
Our dentists will listen to your symptoms, examine your teeth and perform other investigations including taking x-rays. These x-rays also help our dentists provide a treatment plan based on the the number, size, shape and depth of the roots.
Root canal procedure
Depending on the difficulty of the procedure, you may need more than one visit to complete the treatment. The treatment plan consists of the following:
- Removing decay and infection – old fillings, tooth decay, infected nerve tissue, pus and debris are removed from the tooth.
- Shaping the canals – the canals within the tooth root need to be shaped into smooth, hollow tunnels that are free of bacteria. This process involves special disinfectants and medication. It may take a few weeks to months for these solutions to take maximum effect against stubborn bacteria within the tooth, and this step may have to be repeated several times.
- Filling the canals – The canals are permanently sealed with a long-lasting barrier material to prevent bacteria from re-infecting the tooth.
- Making the tooth functional again – a prosthetic is placed on the tooth (such as a crown) to make sure no bacteria enters the tooth cavity.