When the inside of a tooth becomes badly damaged, it’s important to fix it to save the tooth. This allows you to keep the tooth, your beautiful healthy smile, and your confidence.
What is a root canal?
A root canal is the name of a treatment that repairs the damaged soft tissue inside a tooth.
This soft tissue is known as the dental pulp, and is composed of connective tissue, nerves, and blood vessels. Together, this tissue helps the tooth to grow.
Sometimes, this tissue becomes damaged. It could be that the nerve dies, there is physical trauma to the tooth, an old filling fails, or perhaps gum disease causes the damage. Whatever the reason, damage to this pulp can be extremely painful, so it is usually very obvious to the patient that something is wrong.
A dentist visit and x-ray will quickly be able to identify the issue, and if it is damage to the soft tissue (the dental pulp) then your dentist may recommend removing the pulp.
This procedure is called a root canal, and is sometimes also called endodontic treatment.
This treatment will remove the damaged pulp and replace it with dental filling. The good news is that the pulp is no longer necessary in adult teeth because it has already completed its task of helping that tooth to grow, however the filling will replace the pulp to retain the strength and health of the tooth.
Without treatment, someone with tissue damage can experience further pain. The dental pulp can become infected and cause more issues, such as the infection spreading into the gums and causing an abscess, and potentially leading to the loss of the whole tooth.
How does a root canal work?
In most cases, patients will be aware of an issue due to the pain of damage to the tooth and will seek dental treatment to determine the cause and fix the problem. In other cases, a dentist can identify the need for a root canal during a routine dental check-up with x-rays, which can save the patient from dental pain in future.
Either way, the first step in a root canal is simply to identify the need for the procedure with an x-ray and check-up and make an appointment for the treatment.
The root canal procedure will usually take just one appointment that could last anywhere from one to two hours.
Your dentist will begin by numbing the area with a local anaesthetic, then work to remove all of the dental pulp from inside the affected tooth. This process can take some time as they have to clean out each of the tooth’s roots (there can be one to four, depending on the tooth), and ensure there is absolutely no infection left inside the tooth.
Once the pulp is removed, they will disinfect the tooth then fill it with a rubber-like material called gutta percha, and finish with a temporary filling.
While the root canal is now complete, you will need to keep an eye out for signs of infection returning to the tooth. Even though it’s not common, it is possible that some infection remains inside the tooth, which could take a few months to show up with symptoms of pain, swelling, and redness. If that’s the case, the dentist will need to reopen the tooth and clean it out once again.
However in most cases, after several months of no reinfection, your dentist may suggest getting a dental crown. A crown is a permanent cap for your tooth that adds strength and reduces the chance of cracks or damage to the tooth in the future, as the tooth is somewhat weakened by the root canal.
Advantages of a root canal
The advantages of a root canal are numerous.
- Stops pain and discomfort
If your tooth is in pain, a root canal can remove the cause and return your mouth to normal.
- Removes the risk of further damage
Performing a root canal removes the risk of further damage, which can cause abscesses and even the loss of the tooth.
- Avoids the need for a dental implant
A root canal allows you to keep your natural tooth, which avoids a much more invasive procedure to have a new tooth fitted with a dental implant.
- Restores strength
A root canal takes a weakened, damaged tooth and improves its strength so you can continue to live normally, especially once you have a dental crown fitted.
How much does a root canal treatment cost?
A root canal in Australia typically costs anywhere from $2,000 to $3,400.
This depends on a number of factors, such as how many canals the tooth has (one canal makes for a simpler and faster procedure than a tooth with four canals), and whether you need additional appointments or sedation.
You may also need to factor in the cost of getting a crown, as this is an important follow-up to most root canals and can add an additional $1,000 to $2,000 in fees.
Your insurance may also help to cover some of the costs of a root canal.
What to expect from your root canal appointment
Here’s a quick run-down of what to expect from a root canal appointment from start to finish.
- Have something to eat and drink before the appointment
- Brush and floss your teeth carefully
- Ask your dentist how long they expect the treatment to take (it is usually 1-2 hours)
- Your dentist will numb the area with anaesthetic
- Your dentist will clean out the tooth
- This procedure should not be painful, but can be uncomfortable due to the time in the chair, keeping your mouth open, the feeling of pressure, and the instruments in your mouth
- Put your hand up to ask your dentist to pause should you ever need a break
- The area will stay numb following the procedure for a few hours as the anaesthetic wears off
- You may experience some tenderness around the tooth for the following day or two - take over-the-counter pain medication as needed
- You will be advised not to eat hard sweets or things that could damage the tooth
- Your dentist will set a follow-up appointment to check on the tooth and perhaps decide on a dental crown
If your tooth is causing you pain, it’s important to have it checked by a dentist and determine the ‘root’ of the issue so you can fix it, maintain the health of your teeth, and get back to living life to its fullest.
Find your nearest dental office and get in touch today to schedule an appointment.