Teeth are living parts of the body. Teeth have an outer hard covering (enamel); however, the core of the tooth is a softer substance (dentine), and inside this, there is a nerve and blood supply to the tooth. On occasions, this nerve can become inflamed, resulting in sensitivity, toothache and dental abscess. Prolonged existing and extensive tooth decay or a leaking filling may result in inflammation in a root canal, which can be very painful. An X-ray will determine the origin of the infection. Root treatments are required when the nerve damage is irreversible, and it is necessary to clean out space in the centre of the tooth where the nerve normally lies and to seal that space to prevent further infection or inflammation. Common reasons for damage to the nerve of the tooth include trauma (accidents), dental diseases such as tooth decay, and gum disease.
Root treatments can take several visits depending on how complex the root is or whether the infection settles. There are various techniques used for cleaning and shaping the root canals, which involve the use of fine instruments called files. The inflamed and infected tissue inside the root canals will be removed painlessly under local anaesthesia. During the next session, your tooth will be provided with an appropriate restoration.
Depending on whether the tooth is infected or not, the treatment may take several visits to complete. Patients can experience some tenderness or soreness in the tooth after a root treatment, and occasionally, the tooth may not settle down, and further treatment or re-treatment may be required. If the root treatment is not successful in resolving the symptoms, then the tooth may need to be removed. The dentist will be able to discuss the prospect of success with you and whether there is any particular reason why an individual tooth might have a higher risk of failure.
Despite the best techniques being used, success cannot be guaranteed, particularly in teeth with complex anatomy. However, the majority of root treatments are successful and avoid the loss of a tooth, which can create more significant problems.
When teeth are root treated, it is important to understand any future treatment required to protect that tooth fully. Root treated teeth have often already suffered a significant amount of damage, and it may be necessary to protect them with a crown or some other long-term solution. The root treatment may save a tooth, but there is often a significant amount of additional treatment required because of the tooth's earlier damage before it needed root treatment. Root treated teeth can look darker than non-root treated teeth, and the dentist will be able to discuss any cosmetic treatment needed to address this where necessary.