The simple answer to ‘what is a root canal?’ is that it is a channel inside the tooth containing blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. However, what most people understand by the term, is that it is a procedure to remove an infection from inside a tooth.
What is a root canal procedure?
Root canal treatment is a procedure to remove the infected dental pulp from inside the tooth under a local anaesthetic. This procedure is commonly referred to as a “root canal” because it involves cleaning and shaping the actual “canal” in the tooth where the nerve(s) reside.
Root canal treatment can vary between individuals. You may need to take a course of antibiotics before the procedure commences to get rid of any infection in the tooth. Furthermore, if the dentist has had to remove a significant amount of decay from your tooth, it may need strengthening with a crown after the root canal treatment.
Before the procedure commences, x-rays will be taken to check the tooth’s roots and determine where the root canals are. Next, the dentist will administer a local anaesthetic with an injection into the soft tissue surrounding the teeth to numb the area.
To access the centre of the tooth—the pulp chamber—the dentist will make a small hole with a dental bur in the top of the tooth. They will then use a selection of small instruments to clear the chamber and root canals of the infected material.
Once all the bacteria, infection and debris has been removed from within this area, it is thoroughly cleansed. The dentist will then place a filling into the empty cavity. Typically, a temporary filling is placed initially just to be confident there is no infection still present.
After a week or so, you will return to see the dentist, who will place a permanent filling once they have confirmed there is no infection present.
Why is root canal treatment needed? Can I just have antibiotics?
Root canal treatment is essential if you want to save your tooth. You will almost certainly receive antibiotics before root canal therapy.
While this will clear the infection in the dental pulp, your dentist will need to remove the debris and repair the tooth to prevent bacteria from entering the tooth and re-infecting it again.
The pulp tissue in the tooth is vital to its development.
But, once the tooth has matured, the pulp tissue is no longer essential. The tooth can receive nutrients from surrounding tissues, and your dentist can safely remove it with a root canal procedure.
What are the symptoms of infected pulp?
Symptoms of infection may include:
- Pain or discomfort when biting or chewing
- Sensitivity to hot and cold
- A loose tooth
- Swollen gum near the infected tooth
- Pus oozing from the affected tooth
- Facial swelling
- Darkening of the tooth
Does root canal treatment hurt?
Your dentist will carry out the root canal procedure under a local anaesthetic. The anaesthetic will numb the area, and you should not experience any pain during the procedure. In fact, you should not feel any more discomfort than you would for a dental filling.
What are the risks of not having a root canal procedure?
If you do not have a root canal procedure, you are at risk of serious problems. Any infection in the tooth pulp can spread to a wider area, including the gums, jaw, brain and elsewhere in the body.
Is there an alternative to a root canal procedure?
If the nerves in the tooth have not been infected, a root canal procedure is not required. However, once the infection has set in, the only alternative is to extract the tooth. In modern dentistry, saving natural teeth is the preferred option and why dentists recommend root canal treatment.
What is a root canal? — The takeaway
While there is hope that there will be a way to avoid root canals one day, no such method currently exists. Although the procedure is minimally invasive and painless for most patients, the actual damage to the tooth can cause slight discomfort. Root canals allow patients to retain their natural teeth and smile with confidence.
Now you know the answer to what is a root canal? Be sure to seek treatment early if you think you have any symptoms that point to a root canal infection. Call us today at Beyond 32 Dental on (02) 9158 6334 to schedule an appointment. We are always happy to help.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner