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To understand a root canal treatment, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the structure of the tooth itself. The root system runs from the crown of the tooth to the end of the root, buried deep beneath the gums, the nerves and blood vessels are contained in a soft tissue called the pulp, this protects them and keeps the tooth alive. Without the nerve endings to stimulate mineral growth, the tooth would just be a shell, but if they are exposed to bacteria through a crack or fracture, they can become infected. If infection begins to take hold of the pulp, it will start to die and the bacteria spreads down the root to contaminate other areas of the mouth. A root canal treatment is aimed at stopping the infection before it affects more teeth, the process involves drilling into the enamel and dentine to access the pulp and scrape it out, after which a filler material is used to seal the opening. In some cases, an extraction may be necessary because the damage is too extensive; catching the problem early on means more chance of saving the tooth. Most people who have undergone this procedure will tell you it’s not something they enjoyed, but it’s preferable to the agony of persistent toothache and losing more teeth in the long run.
Tooth decay is the chief cause of infection that leads to a root canal treatment, there are millions of bacteria in our mouths that combine with acids and sugars in food to attack the enamel, causing the first stages of decay to set in. Plaque is a sticky yellow substance that lines the teeth and gathers in hard to reach areas, eventually breaking down the pourous surface of our teeth if we don’t adequately clean them. Cavities begin to appear over time – small holes that rot through the teeth – providing a passageway through the mineral layers to the delicate pulp encased inside. Bacteria start to pile into the holes and infect the root canal system, causing it to become inflamed and very painful. A root canal filling is in order at this stage of decay, to make sure the infection doesn’t penetrate deeper into the soft tissues and break down more teeth.
Sometimes, a root canal may be necessary following an injury or surgical procedure that causes damage to the tooth, cracks and fissures – even minor ones – can work in the same was as cavities, leaving the pulp vulnerable to disease. If you have an accident or you notice a fracture in one of your teeth, make an appointment with your dentist immediately, prevention is better than cure, and you have more chance of saving your teeth if you act quickly. The Pearl Dental Clinic can provide you with all the information you need about root canal treatment, and their friendly team are always available for consultations if you’re concerned about tooth pain.
You will only know if you need a root canal by consulting with a dental expert, but if you are feeling pain in your teeth, it’s possible that infected pulp is the cause. Small cavities can often go unnoticed until the damage is irreversible, so you might not be aware of the problem at all until the throbbing toothache begins.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may need a root canal treatment;
Stabbing pain when eating hot or cold food.
Toothache after biting and chewing.
Loosened teeth that feel weak and aren’t functioning as they should.
Swelling, oozing and extremely painful toothache are signs that the infection has spread to the canal system, and the tooth – or teeth – in question require immediate attention. Just because the toothache abates after a period of time does not mean the problem has gone, in fact, the opposite is usually true.
The best way to avoid extensive decay is to maintain good oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly – they will be able to fill small holes and cracks that you might not even know you had. Occasionally, cavities can cause aches and pains without requiring surgery, but if it’s clear that the roots are infected, your dentist will perform a root canal or maybe an extraction if the damage is too extensive.
Generally, your dentist will take several x-rays of the affected area, in order to establish which tooth requires treatment. It’s important that you make your surgeon aware of any symptoms you have been experiencing, so they can help you to the best of their ability. After the troublesome tooth has been identified, anaesthetic will be administered – unless the decay has killed all sensation, then it may not be necessary. Most patients may prefer pain relief anyway, in case some of the nerve endings are still active.
After the anaesthetic has taken affect, your dentist will then place a protective rubber dam on the tooth and then drill through the crown of the tooth, in order to access the pulp chamber. Using specially designed tools, they will then scrape out the infected tissue and clean the empty canal thoroughly, to make sure there is no infection remaining. The hole usually has to be enlarged slightly after the excavation; this is to make it easier to fill.
Some surgeries choose to fit a temporary filling at this point, if the treatment is taking place over several appointments, then a permanent canal filling will be inserted at a later date. It’s likely that you will also be fitted with a dental crown to protect what remains of the tooth. After the root canal has been carried out, the tooth is essentially dead, although it can still be used for biting and chewing, the crown is put in place to make sure the sealed tooth remains structurally sound and can function normally. Most dentists prefer to keep the natural tooth where possible, even if it is underneath a porcelain shell.
Success rate with root canal treatment is around 70-90%. Hundreds of thousands of root canal treatments are performed in the UK every year, and studies have shown that a high percentage of restored teeth will last nearly a decade – the majority of which had a crown fitted over the natural tooth.
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