In the center, your teeth have a nucleus of blood vessels and nerves called the pulp. This pulp is in a space called the root canal. Each tooth can have one or more root canals. Your front teeth often have only one root canal, while your back teeth can have three or more.
The pulp of your teeth can become infected with bacteria if your teeth are damaged. This can happen in different ways. They are between them:
an injury, such as a blow to the mouth;
cracked or loose fillings, or repeated fillings in the tooth;
Root canal treatment can often be done in one session, or it may take more than one session to do it. The length of treatment will depend on how severe the problem is. Your dentist can perform a root canal or recommend an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in root canals.
Sometimes damaged teeth cannot be repaired with root canals. In general, this happens if you have a badly damaged tooth or if you have severe gum disease that prevents your tooth from healing or having good support after treatment. In this case, your dentist may suggest extracting the tooth (extraction).
Your dentist will ask you questions about your symptoms and examine you. He will also ask you questions about your medical history and any previous treatment that has been done on your teeth.
Your dentist will also take an X-ray of your tooth. This can show how far the infection has spread, if there is an abscess, and the number of root canals in your tooth.
Root canal treatment is usually done under local anesthesia. This anesthesia completely blocks the pain in your jaw, and you will stay awake during the procedure. If you are concerned about having local anesthesia, speak with your dentist.
Your dentist will explain to you what will happen before, during, and after treatment, and any pain you may have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you may find it helpful to prepare a list of questions about the risks, benefits, and alternatives to the procedure. This will help you stay informed so that you can give your consent if you are asked to sign a consent form to carry out the procedure.
If you need local anesthesia, your dentist will allow a few minutes before the procedure for it to take effect. The dentist will separate the tooth from the rest of the mouth, with a thin layer of rubber called a dam. This stops the spread of any infection and prevents you from swallowing or breathing in any small instruments or liquid used during the procedure.
Your dentist will make a hole in the top of the tooth and remove the dead or diseased pulp. They will then clean the empty hole with a liquid that also helps clear any infection. The hole in the tooth may need to be widened to make sure it can be filled properly, and this is done with small rows. This can take several hours and may need to be done in more than one visit. If the root canal is severely damaged, this may be all your dentist does on your first visit. Your dentist will put a temporary filling on your tooth to keep it closed until you return to continue treatment. However, if your tooth is not severely damaged, the dentist can put a permanent filling and seal the tooth. You can take an x-ray to evaluate before filling the tooth.
If you have a temporary filling, the dentist will remove it and replace it with a permanent one when you return for your next appointment. It will then seal the tooth to prevent further infection and damage. If there is a risk of the tooth being damaged again, your dentist may suggest that a crown be placed. The crown is an artificial cap that fits over the tooth.
Generally, the patient can go home when he feels ready. After local anesthesia, it may take several hours for your mouth to regain sensitivity.
You may need pain relievers to relieve any discomfort when the effects of the anesthesia wear off. If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol (acetaminophen). Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine, and if you have questions, ask the pharmacist.
Your root canal should be evaluated by your dentist after one year. An X-ray will be taken and your dentist will evaluate any pain, swelling, or signs of infection or damage. You may need additional checkups in the next four years if there are signs of damage, or if your tooth is not healing properly. Some people need another root canal.
After your treatment, it is important that you take care of your repaired tooth. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss every day, and only eat foods or drinks with sugar at mealtime. You can also take care of your teeth by visiting the dentist regularly for a check-up.
As with any procedure, there are some risks associated with root canal treatment. We have not included the probabilities of such risks occurring as they are specific to you and vary from person to person. Ask your dentist to explain how the risks apply to you.
Side effects, although unwanted, are mostly temporary effects that you may have after the procedure.
Cleaning the teeth may cause slight sensitivity, but this is only temporary. If you have severe pain or any pain or discomfort that gets worse, see your dentist.
Complications are problems that arise during or after treatment.
You are unlikely to have other problems after root canal treatment. If your tooth is not healing properly, or is damaged or infected, you can have your root canal treatment done again. This is called retreatment.
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