What is a root canal treatment?
You may need a root canal carrying out if you have a damaged tooth that has become infected, the aim is to remove the contaminated nerve pulp at the centre of the tooth, in order to stop the infection spreading to other areas of the mouth. Damage to the teeth may arise following an accident or questionable oral hygiene that has resulted in decay. It is described as a ‘root canal treatment’ because it is the root canal system that has to be excavated to solve the problem.
In what kind of circumstances might I require a root canal treatment?
There are lots of incidents that might lead to a root canal procedure, but they all cause the same problem – exposure of the pulp to bacteria and subsequent infection. If the nerves become inflamed for whatever reason, they cannot function correctly and will have to be removed in order to save the tooth.
Decay is probably the biggest cause of infection among adults in the UK, failure to properly clean away food debris and bacteria means plaque begins to build up. This sticky, yellow film holds acid and bacterial waste directly in contact with the surface of the teeth, eventually breaking down the porous enamel and creating a hole that reaches through to the central pulp chamber. This is a fairly slow process, but once it takes hold, there’s often no choice but to perform root canal to protect the rest of the teeth.
It’s not just a lazy attitude towards hygiene that can cause difficulties though, accidents happen to everyone in life and a sudden impact to the mouth or jaw can certainly lead to more problems than a few bruises. Even if you teeth may seem indestructible, they can still be cracked and broken if they are put under enough pressure. A fractured tooth is in danger of infection, and if the crack is deep enough, a root canal treatment may be necessary.
There are also some surgical procedures that can be troublesome, particularly if they are not performed correctly or aftercare instructions are not followed. Fillings may be too large or too small for the cavity they were intended to fill, they may even break free from the socket, once again exposing the pulp to the millions of bacteria that are inside the human mouth. At the Pearl Dental Clinic, you can be sure you are being referred to a qualified, experienced surgeon who will fix your problem with the minimum amount of discomfort and inconvenience. Give the clinic a call if you think you may need a root canal or you just want a professional to assess the condition of your teeth.
What is the root canal system?
The human tooth is quite a complex thing, it is made up of several layers of minerals, which vary in texture and strength, and the outer shell is the hardest of these, called the enamel. The layers have to be thick and durable to protect the delicate nervous system housed at the centre of the tooth, in a small soft tissue chamber. The root passes down below the gum line, essential for holding the tooth securely in place, and for connecting it to the rest of the body’s central nervous system. If infection is allowed past the outer layers, it will travel down the root (or roots) into the gums and beyond. It is important to stop this process before it does too much damage, a root canal procedure is the only way to get rid of the infected tissue and prevent further deterioration.
What happens during the root canal treatment?
Drilling holes and scraping out pulp does sound like a nasty business, but rest assured, you won’t feel any pain at all. Your dentist will administer a local anaesthetic and only begin the operation when the area is completely numb, if you are a particularly nervous patient, your dentist may choose to sedate you – this doesn’t mean that you will be asleep, just that you will feel more relaxed and less anxious in the chair. In some cases, the infection has damaged the tooth so extensively that there is no sensation left in it, anaesthetic may not be necessary in this circumstance, however, most patients would probably prefer one, just in case.
The dentist will then drill into the crown of the tooth to gain access to the pulp inside, and then with specialist tools they will remove it completely, leaving the chamber empty. It’s important that the space is thoroughly rinsed out at this stage, if even the tiniest piece of tissue is left behind, bacteria can multiply and infection will set in again. It’s also likely that the hole will have to be enlarged slightly to accommodate filling material, your dentist will use sanding and shaping tools to get it to the right size. Root canal spaces are typically quite narrow, which can make them trickier to fill than your average cavity.
The filling in the crown of the tooth itself can be made from amalgam or composite bonding. Mainly for aesthetic reasons, most patients opt for a composite filling; it has the colour and texture of a natural tooth, so it is harder to spot. After the treatment is completed, the tooth is without a nerve centre and can no longer function in the same way as other teeth; this weakens it and leaves it vulnerable to fractures. Most dentists will chose to place a dental crown over the top of the tooth, in order to protect it and make it appear more natural – this is particularly useful if the tooth is under a lot of pressure daily, from chewing and biting.
Millions of people have undergone this procedure with no ill effects, aside from the normal aches and pains associated with surgery. With adequate care, a treated tooth can last up to ten years, remaining functional and appearing no different from the rest of the teeth.