Root canal treatment explained

Root canal treatment (root canal filling) is needed when the pulp of the tooth, commonly called “the nerve” is either inflamed, dead, has become infected, or is at risk of becoming infected in the future.

The pulp extends along small channels which are situated in the centre of the root(s) of teeth (“the root canals”).

The reason for the pulp being damaged maybe any of the following:

  • Dental or “tooth” decay
  • Large or deep filling
  • Leakage under an old crown or filling
  • Trauma (from a fall, accident or sports injury)
  • Cracks or fracture in the teeth

Where a damaged or dead pulp is not removed, it will often become infected and may result in a dental abscess. Root canal treatment may not be as successful when there is long standing or severe infection such as a dental abscess.

root canal treatment

The root canal treatment process

The treatment is carried out under local anaesthetic, just like a filling, and is generally painless. The objective is to remove the pulp tissue and any infection from the root canals in the centre of the tooth. These canals are then filled with a combination of a rubber-like material called ‘gutta-percha’ and a sealer cement to provide a good root filling and prevent bacterial infection. During the procedure the dentist uses fine metal instruments (files) along with a disinfectant material to clean out the root canals. A sheet of latex or ‘rubber dam‘ is placed over the tooth and is held in place with a clip which prevents bacteria and debris from your mouth going into the root canals. It also stops water from the drill or bits of filling from falling into the back of your mouth. The rubber dam provides the best possible environment for both your comfort and safety, and the success of the treatment. Once the root canal is cleaned and the root filling completed, the tooth must then be restored to complete the seal from oral bacteria.

A successful root canal treatment may extend the functional life of a badly damaged tooth when very often the only real alternative is extraction of the tooth.


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