What is Root Canal Therapy?

Every tooth has a hollow central portion called the Pulp (nerve).

When the nerve of the centre of the tooth becomes irreversibly damaged or dies the only treatment possible to save the tooth is called root canal therapy.  

Root canal therapy involves a series of appointments.  

Visit 1 At the first appointment the dentist will give local anaesthetic to numb the area, a rubber shield is placed over the tooth, to isolate the tooth and prevent contamination of the nerve canal.   The nerve canal(s) are cleaned of the diseased pulpal tissue, infection and toxins.   A medication is placed in the canal to help settle the infection and a temporary restoration is placed over the tooth.    The medication is left in place for at least 14 days to help clear any infection.

Visit 2:  The second appointment involves measuring and cleaning of the root canal system and radiograph(s) are taken to determine the root canal lengths.   In some cases the root canal therapy may be completed at this visit.

Visit 3 If at the third appointment the tooth infection has settled and is free from discomfort and infection, the dentist is able to complete the root canal filling.   A rubber shield is again placed over the tooth, and the root filling is placed.   If the infection has not settled, the dentist will repeat the second stage of root canal therapy, to allow extra time for the tooth infection to settle.

After the root canal therapy is completed, a final restoration needs to be placed on the tooth to protect the tooth and root filling.   In some cases a simple tooth coloured restoration is suitable, if the tooth is badly broken down or has a large old filling, a post and crown is recommended.


What causes a tooth to require root canal therapy?

There are several reasons a tooth may require root canal therapy

  • Bacteria can affect the pulp (nerve) of the tooth through a deep decay, or a major fracture line within the enamel of the tooth.
  • A sharp knock to the tooth, through an accident, can damage the nerve of the tooth.
  • Sometimes advanced periodontal disease can affect the nerve of the tooth.
What is the success rate?

Research shows that root canal therapy has a success rate of 90-95%.   A tooth that has had root canal therapy could last you the rest of your life, this is dependant on the tooth being adequately strengthened afterwards.   Occasionally, depending on the difficulty of the case, the dentist may refer you to an endodontist (root canal specialist).

Sometimes the tooth can darken.   The discoloured tooth can be lightened using internal whitening, or a crown, or veneer to cover the front of the tooth, restoring it to its original appearance.

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