FAQs About Root Canal Treatments
What is endodontics?
Endodontics is a word derived from the Greek words “endo” (inside) and “dont” (tooth). It is the branch of dentistry that involves the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease or injury to the dental pulp.
What is a root canal?
Root canal is the space within a tooth that contains blood vessels and nerve fibres known as the dental pulp. The pulp nourishes and hydrates the tooth and provides a hot and cold sensory function. It consists of 2 major parts; a chamber in the crown of the tooth, and a canal(s) that extend(s) from the tip of the root to the chamber within the crown.
Front teeth (incisors and canines) usually have one root canal. Premolar teeth can have 1, 2 or 3 root canals, and molar teeth may have 2-4 root canals.
Why does the nerve become infected/ damaged?
The most common causes are tooth decay, fractures, trauma, loose fillings and gum disease. These can expose the dental pulp to bacteria and cause infection within the root canal space. If this is left untreated, infection can reach the tip of the root and its surrounding bone forming an abscess. This presents as a hot fluctuant swelling that is severely painful and often accompanied with fever and ill-being.
What is a root canal treatment?
Root canal treatment is the removal the infected pulp, cleaning and shaping the root canals with tiny needle-shaped instruments and disinfecting solutions, and sealing off the disinfected canals with an inert filling.
This relieves pain (and swelling) from toothache and dental abscess.
What does the treatment involve?
Root canal treatment involves isolating the tooth with a special rubber sheet to prevent saliva from further contaminating the pulp and to protect the airways from the sharp instruments used during the treatment. The tooth is then drilled and the infected pulp removed. The root canal(s) is (are) cleaned, slightly enlarged and disinfected using needle-shaped drills and disinfecting solutions. Finally, the prepared root canal(s) is (are) sealed off with an inert material.
Will I experience pain during root canal treatment?
People often say “I’d rather have a root canal” for comparing worst case scenarios. Well, this is a common misconception!
While toothache often results from infected and inflamed teeth that require root canal treatment, the treatment itself is totally painless as the tooth (and the surrounding tissues) will be numbed using local anesthetics. The treatment will also relieve the symptoms that developed from inflamed and infected pulps.
It is quite common, however, to experience some tenderness in the area around the tooth over the few days following treatment as part of the healing process. The jaw may also be tender as a result of opening your mouth for an extended period of times. These symptoms are temporary and usually respond very well to normal painkillers.
How many visits are needed to complete the treatment?
In most cases, root canal treatment is completed in one visit. However, in certain complicated cases, a second or even a third visit may be needed to complete the treatment and avoid complications.
What are the possible complications for root canal treatment?
There is always a risk of procedural errors and instrument failure such as fracture of a file within a root canal. Fortunately, these complications are not very common and can be dealt with successfully in the majority of cases.
Other complications include an episode of acute flare up following root canal instrumentation. In most cases, this is part of the healing process and can be managed by repeating the disinfection procedures and/or proper prescription of antibiotics.
What are the advantages of root canal treatment?
Root canal treatment controls pain and infection and therefore saves teeth that otherwise would have to be taken out and replaced with artificial teeth.
What is the success rate of root canal treatment?
Root canal treatments are successful in more than 90% of the cases when treatment is done the first time. Re-treatments have a success rate of 75-90% depending on several factors.
In the unfortunate cases where root canal treatment was not successful, repeating the treatment or surgically cutting the root(s) tip(s) can save the tooth and relieve symptoms.
What are the alternative treatment options?
The only alternative is to extract the tooth. If the tooth is not replaced with an artificial one, adjacent teeth will move which can affect the bite and create unsightly gaps between teeth.
Replacement of a tooth is often costly and requires either surgery (implants) or drilling adjacent healthy teeth (bridges).
Will root canal treatment discolour my tooth?
Root canal treated teeth may darken on rare occasions. This can be managed by bleaching the tooth or placing ceramic veneers or crowns.
Do I need any further treatment afterwards?
Root canal treatment is only one step towards restoring your tooth in full function. A final restoration (i.e. filling, crown, onlay..etc) is necessary to prevent re-infection of the root canal space and to protect the tooth against fracture.
What should I do to improve the prognosis of my tooth?
Maintaining a good oral hygiene through brushing, flossing and regular scaling and polishing is an essential requirement for the success of any dental procedure. Following root canal treatment, periodic clinical and radiographic examination should be carried out to monitor the healing process. With proper care, endodontically treated teeth, with good final restorations, can be retained for as long as other vital teeth.