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Nothing strikes fear into the heart of dental patients quite like the words ‘root canal treatment’. When the blood or nerve supply of a tooth (often known as the ‘pulp’) becomes damaged through injury, infection, or decay, it can cause the nerve of the tooth to die. Years ago this would have meant that the tooth would have to be removed entirely before the whole area became infected. However, thanks to root canal treatment, it is now possible to save teeth that are at risk from the damaged pulp.
Infections spread quickly. This is particularly true in our mouths which, by being moist and warm, are a perfect breeding ground for the spread of bacteria. An infection that starts in the pulp can quickly spread through the entire root canal system and if left untreated, could grow to form an abscess. If this happens, bacteria-filled pus will collect under the gums, causing them to swell and become hot and potentially extremely painful. At this point, your dentist will need to prescribe you a course of oral antibiotics and it may be necessary to remove the tooth altogether.
The main goal of root canal treatment is to remove all of the infection from the root canal in order to save the original tooth.
When you consider that fear of the dentist is an almost universal phenomenon, it isn't surprising that tales of dental treatment are often embellished beyond recognition. In fact, a root canal shouldn't be any more painful than an ordinary filling.
Root canal treatment is quite a complex process and will normally require two to three visits to your dentist.
During your first treatment, your dentist will remove the infected pulp and drain away any bacteria or pus that may be present. He/she will then clean the root and shape it so it is ready to receive a filling that should help prevent it from getting infected in the future. A temporary filling will be put in at this time and the root canal will be given some time to heal.
About a week later you will go in for your follow-up visit. During which your dentist will ensure that the infection is completely gone and then your tooth is able to receive a permanent filling.
Your dentist may also suggest giving the affected tooth a crown. This is because teeth that have received root canal treatment become weaker and more brittle, so a crown will provide extra resilience against fractures and chips.
After your root canal treatment, your mouth may be sore for a few days. During this time try to limit your diet to soft foods, don’t smoke, and avoid alcohol.
Once your root canal treatment is complete you will be able to look after your tooth by following a comprehensive oral healthcare plan that includes twice-daily brushing, daily flossing, and the use of mouthwash.
Occasionally, a tooth that had received root canal treatment would darken a few shades. This is now a rarity, but should there be any discoloration, you should speak to your dentist who will be able to suggest a treatment that will lighten the tooth back to a more natural color that will match your other teeth.