Endodontics (Root Canal Treatments)
Endodontics is the arm of dentistry concerned with the pulp – the soft tissue at the centre of each tooth. When people talk about endodontics, they are generally referring to the procedure known as root canal treatment.
What is endondontics?
The pulp consists of blood vessels, nerves and various other tissues. While the pulp is vital in a tooth’s development during childhood, by the time we reach adulthood, the tooth has finished growing and the pulp starts to decrease in size.
If the pulp becomes infected or contaminated by decay, the tooth becomes painful and root canal treatment is usually indicated.
Signs you may need a root canal treatment
The most obvious sign is that the tooth really hurts. It is not uncommon for the pain to be throbbing in nature. The gum nearby may also be swollen while cold or hot drinks cause severe pain for an extended period. Often the pain is bad enough to wake a person from their sleep. A discoloured tooth or an obvious cavity are also signs of possible pulp damage.
Don’t ignore the symptoms
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of pulp infection, it is vital that you see your dentist. If you ignore the pain, it may go away by itself but that only means the pulp of the tooth is dead and the nerves there can no longer send pain signals. But the bacteria causing the infection will still be present and if left untreated, it can migrate to the jaw and gums and even lead to an abscess.
What is the procedure for root canal treatment?
The infected or diseased pulp is removed, along with any decayed sections of the tooth. A very fine spinning file is used to clean and shape the empty root canal where the pulp once was. The root canal is then treated with disinfectant to destroy any remaining bacteria. The final step is to fill the root canal with a special material called gutta percha and then restore the tooth. In some cases, if the decay has been particularly extensive, a crown will need to be fitted.
There may be a little pain straight after the procedure but that should fade fairly quickly. A regular routine of brushing and flossing is all that is required to look after your treated tooth.
Does it hurt?
In the past, root canal treatments were painful and became the punchline of many jokes. (‘I would rather have a root canal than…!’). These days, with modern anaesthesia and the latest endodontic technology, a root canal procedure is virtually painless. The fear of the treatment is often much worse than the treatment itself.
Are there alternatives to root canal treatment?
An alternative to root canal treatment is extraction and replacement of the tooth with either a bridge, an implant, or dentures. However, it is always preferable to keep your natural tooth rather than replace it with a false tooth. The other advantage of root canal treatment is that it is usually cheaper than the other options.
How long does a root canal treatment last?
After your treatment, the tooth will feel just like normal. It may seem strange that a tooth without a pulp can be functional and look normal but, happily, that is the case. A treated tooth can last a lifetime but that is dependent on an effective and frequent oral hygiene regimen, and regular visits to the dentist – at least twice a year.