Root canal treatment is a dental procedure that may be required in moderate to severe cases of tooth decay. The procedure is used to treat infections that have affected the centre or pulp of the tooth where the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth are contained. This type of treatment is also called endodontics.
The tooth is composed of an outer hard cover or the enamel and inner dentine which surrounds the soft pulp at the centre of the tooth. The upper, visible part of the tooth is called the crown and the part buried within the jaw is the root of the tooth which anchors it to the jaw bone. The root canal contains the inner pulp that extends from the crown to the root. There may be more than one root canal in a tooth. There is usually one root canal for the front incisor and canine teeth, while the premolars and molars may have two to three root canals.
Need for root canal treatment
Root canal treatment is often indicated in people with tooth decay caused by bacteria present inside the mouth. Tooth decay can lead to:
Infection of the tooth pulp which may decay and die. As the infection progresses, the bacteria penetrates the root and leads to inflammation of the tissues around the end of the tooth, leading to toothache and even dental abscesses.
Severe injury to the teeth with erosion of the enamel and exposure of the inner pulp of the tooth.
Leakage of a filling and exposure of the tooth pulp.
What is involved in root canal treatment
Before treatment is begun, an X-ray of the affected tooth is taken to determine the degree of damage. The area to be treated is then numbed using a local anaesthetic injection to ensure the procedure is painless.
The tooth is opened up at the crown to provide access to the root canal within. Any infected pulp is removed and abscesses may be drained to ensure the tooth is infection-free, a very important step in root canal treatment.
Once all infection is removed, the root canal is cleaned and shaped in preparation for the filling. A root filling composed of rubber material is then compressed into the canal to seal it permanently. Following the root canal filling, the tooth is restored and sealed with another filling or crown. This process may involve several visits to the dentist and may take longer when the back rather than front teeth are concerned.
Prevention of recurrence of infection in other teeth
It is important to prevent tooth decay by adopting good dental hygiene practices, avoiding sugary foods and quitting smoking.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc