Root canal surgery is one of those phrases that usually inspires fear in most dental phobic patients. Maybe it is the word ‘surgery’ that invokes dread. For others, it is the ‘root’ aspect – the image conjured up is one of the dentist drilling deeper and deeper to get to the heart of the problem. However, modern root canal treatment is now far easier for patients to undergo. Modern equipment and facilities make it much easier, less intrusive and less painful.

This fact sheet will explain exactly what root canal treatment involves so that patients with a fear of dentistry can have a greater knowledge of the procedure.

What is root canal treatment?

We all know that teeth can decay or become accidentally damaged. As well as being occasionally painful, difficult to clean and making it difficult to eat, teeth that are damaged are also vulnerable. In particular, teeth where the enamel has broken aware or where the tooth has rotted away are vulnerable to infection.

Sometimes this infection can get through into the blood supply or the nerve of the tooth. This is the point at which root canal treatment is required, as the infection blood supply will only help the decay to spread even faster.

Why would I need it?

Hopefully, and provided the infection has not already killed the tooth nerve, root canal treatment will save the tooth so that it does not need to be extracts. However, you do need to commit to treatment as soon as you know that there is an infection there.

If you delay treatment, then the infection will spread into the root of the tooth and into the root canal, which can ultimately cause an abscess to form on the tooth. An abscess can be extremely painful and will usually necessitate the tooth being extracted.

What does the procedure involve?

The root canal procedure is usually performed under local anaesthetic and it can require a number of visits to the dentist. The initial task is to remove the infected pulp, which includes the inner nerve of the tooth. The inside of the tooth is cleaned and the infection entirely removed. Finally, a temporary filling is fitted over the newly-shaped and cleaned tooth.

The second stage of the treatment is to go back to your dentist for a second appointment. The dentist ensures that the infection has not returned and, if it has not, then applies a permanent filling to the tooth.

When the pulp is removed from your teeth, the tooth itself is technically dead. However, if your only other options are to get the tooth removed or to learn to live with the pain, it is worth getting the treatment doe. The tooth may not hurt much initially, but it certainly will start to once the abscess.

What questions should I ask my dentist?

If you are about to undergo canal treatment, you need to think about after care. Because the nerve has been removed from the tooth, it will not be as strong as it used to be. Ask your dentist about whether it is worth having a crown fitted to support the tooth.

In terms of brushing your teeth, you should just carry on with regular brushing twice a day. On occasions, the infection may not have been completely cleared by the dentist and may return. If this is the case, the root canal treatment can normally be done again.

What will my tooth look like after treatment?

In the past, a root filled tooth would often darken after treatment. However, with modern techniques this does not usually happen. If there is any discolouration, there are several treatments available to restore the natural appearance.

What if it happens again?

Root canal treatment is usually very successful. However, if the infection comes back the treatment can be repeated.

Is it expensive?

You can have root canal treatment on the National Health Service. However, due to the time it takes and the skill needed, many dentists prefer to carry out this treatment privately. As a private dental practice, will be pleased to give you an estimate.

What if I don’t have the treatment?

The alternative is to have the tooth out. Once the pulp is destroyed, it can’t heal and it is not recommended to leave an infected tooth in the mouth.Although some people would prefer an extraction, it is usually best to keep as many natural teeth as possible.

Will the tooth be safe after treatment?

Yes. However, it is better to restore the tooth with a crown to provide extra support and strength to the tooth.

Where can this treatment be carried out?

Root canal treatment is a routine dental procedure, which your dentist will be happy to do for you.

What about aftercare?

Root-treated teeth should be treated just the same as any other tooth. Remember to clean your teeth at least once a day, preferably with a fluoride toothpaste. Cut down on sugary snacks, and keep them only to mealtimes if possible. See your dentist for regular check-ups.