Root canal treatment is usually required when the pulp of the tooth (living portion) becomes infected or irreversibly inflamed, either through decay or injury. This pulp is situated in small channels in the roots of the tooth and will need to be removed if it has died and become infected (abscessed), or if it is inflamed and dying (causing acute pain).

With appropriate anesthesia, this procedure is entirely painless, though complex and lengthy. As this is the foundation on which other treatments are built, it is important that it is carried out meticulously, and so your dentist will normally set aside considerable time for this treatment. We use a rubber dam to isolate the particular tooth from the rest of the mouth, in order to keep it dry and sterile. The tooth will need to be restored either by a filling, or more typically a crown after root canal treatment.

Q & A

Why is root canal treatment needed?

If the pulp (blood or nerve supply of the tooth) becomes infected, the infection may spread through the root canal system of the tooth. This may eventually lead to an abscess. If root canal treatment (RCT) is not carried out, the infection will spread and the tooth may need to be taken out.

What does it involve?

The aim of the treatment is to remove all infection from the root canal. The root is then cleaned and filled to prevent any further infection.

Root canal treatment is a skilled and time-consuming procedure. Many courses of treatment will involve two or more visits to your dentist, though occasionally one visit will be sufficient.

At the first appointment, the infected pulp is removed. Any abscesses, which may be present, can also be drained at this time. The root canal is then cleaned and shaped and made ready for the filling. Where more than one visit is required, a temporary filling is put in and the tooth is left to settle.

The tooth is checked at a later visit and when all the infection has cleared, the tooth is permanently filled.

What will my tooth look like after treatment?

A root filled tooth can darken after treatment. If there is any discolouration, there are several treatments available to restore the natural appearance, including whitening, crowns and veneers.

What if the infection recurs?

Root canal treatment is usually very successful. However, if the infection comes back the tooth can be re root canal treated, or an apicectomy carried out.

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.

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.