Root canal treatment is a dental procedure used to treat an infection at the centre of a tooth.
Root canal treatment is not painful and can save a tooth that might otherwise have to be removed completely.
Why might I need root canal treatment?
If your tooth is damaged, bacteria can get inside it and cause an infection. The infection can then spread into the pulp inside the root canal.
If an infection is not treated, it can spread further and cause an abscess, which is a collection of pus. This can be painful, tender and can cause swelling around your tooth and jaw.
Sometimes your tooth may look darker in colour than your other teeth, which means that the nerve inside your tooth is dead or dying. Without treatment, the infection may spread further into your jawbone and you may need to have your tooth removed.
The symptoms that you might experience are as follow:
- Pain when eating or drinking hot or cold food and drink
- Pain when biting or chewing
- A loose tooth
- Swelling of the gum near the affected tooth
- Pus oozing from the affected tooth
- Facial swelling
- The tooth becoming a darker colour
The aim of root canal treatment is to prevent your tooth from being taken out by removing the damaged pulp and treating the infection.
You may need root canal treatment for a number of reasons, including:
- Severe tooth decay
- Repeated dental treatment on the tooth
- A cracked tooth
- A broken crown
- Cracked or loose fillings
- Gum disease
- An injury/damage to teeth as a result of trauma, such as a fall
Preparing for root canal treatment
Root canal treatment is performed by a dentist. However, if your tooth is difficult to treat, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist. This is a dentist who specialises in root canal treatment.
Your dentist will examine you and ask about your symptoms, including any pain you’re having. They may also ask you about your medical history and any previous treatment you’ve had on your teeth.
Your dentist will take an x-ray of your tooth. This can help to show which tooth is causing your pain and needs treatment, as well as how far any infection has spread. These examinations are necessary for your dentist to make sure that the tooth is not too badly damaged for root canal treatment.
Although some root canal treatments can be completed within one appointment, most are done over two or more sessions with your dentist.
Root canal treatment is usually done under local anaesthetic. This completely blocks pain from your tooth and jaw area, and you will stay awake during the procedure.
What are the alternatives to root canal treatment?
Sometimes damaged teeth cannot be repaired with root canal treatment. This is usually if the tooth is badly damaged, or if the patient has severe gum disease which prevents the tooth from healing or being well supported after treatment. If this happens, the alternative option might be to have the tooth removed.
What happens once the root canal treatment is completed?
Once the root canal is completed it is important to continue to look after your teeth. You should avoid biting on hard foods until your treatment is complete. It is also recommended to keep your teeth clean, not to eat too much surgery food, as well as avoiding smoking.
After your final treatment, your restored tooth should no longer be painful, although it may feel sensitive for a few days. However, if the pain continues and you still have some swelling after using painkillers, you should return to your dentist.
Examples of dental negligence in root canal treatment
Besides the failure to properly gain consent from the patient, the dentist may also make the following mistakes that could constitute a negligent treatment:
- Failure to take x-rays before and after the treatment
- Failure to use rubber dam in order to prevent a sodium hypochlorite spillage which has caused injury
- The failure to use a rubber dam which has allowed bacteria to seep into the treated tooth and cause infection
- Failure to prevent a sodium hypochlorite spillage. Sodium hypochlorite is a bleaching agent commonly used during root canal treatment to clean the canals and pulp chamber of a tooth to dissolve any bacteria present. If you have suffered an injury resulting from a sodium hypochlorite spillage during root canal treatment (this can include burns or even nerve injury), this is likely a result of negligence, particularly if a rubber dam has not been used.
- Failure to leave the tip of a file in or around the treated tooth, which the dentist who carried out the root canal treatment did not tell you about at the time of treatment
- The failure to fill the canals of the tooth completely, which generally occurs when a dentist fails to accurately record the lengths of the canals prior to treatment
- A perforation of the tooth which has occurred after a dentist has over filled a root canal, which can lead to nerve damage. Perforations need to be repaired as soon as possible, as they can cause bone loss.