What is Root Canal Treatment?
Root canal treatment, or ‘endodontics’ as it is also known, is a dental procedure used to treat decay, infection or injury to the blood or nerve supply of the tooth (the root canal system). It is used to save teeth which would otherwise have to be removed. The infection may cause an abscess if left untreated which in itself can be painful so it is worth avoiding! In the early stages of infection you may not initially feel any pain. In some cases your tooth may darken – which may mean the nerve has died or is dying. The symptoms of an abscess however can range from a dull ache to severe pain and tenderness when you bite down. If a root canal isn’t performed the infection would spread and the tooth would need to be removed.
The Root Canal Process
Root Canal Treatment is a skilled and time-consuming procedure – root canals are very small spaces and they require a great deal of precision and care to treat well. Like root systems of plants, the root canals of teeth have a main ‘branch’ as well as many smaller side ‘branches’. The whole system needs to be sealed during root canal treatment to be successful long term. The aim of the treatment is to remove all bacteria and then to clean and fill the root to prevent any further infection from occurring. Most courses of treatment will involve two or more visits to the dentist.
Initially a local anaesthetic is administered via an injection to numb the tooth and the surrounding tissues.
During the treatment, the inflamed or infected pulp is removed, any abscesses are drained if needed, and the inside of the tooth is very carefully cleaned, disinfected and shaped to enable the canal to receive special fillings and sealers. Once the pulp and the nerves contained in it is removed the tooth itself can no longer feel pain.
The freshly prepared canal space is then filled with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. It is a thermoplastic material which is heated and then compressed into and against the walls of the root canals to seal them – it fits exactly into the prepared space. Together with adhesive cement called a sealer, the gutta-percha fills the prepared canal space. Sealing the canals is critically important to prevent re-infection.
Next a temporary or permanent filling material will then be placed to seal the access hole that was made to treat the canals.
Dead teeth are more brittle than live ones so your dentist may fit a cap or a crown to strengthen it and replace lost tooth structure as well as to provide a complete seal to the top of the tooth. You may also be prescribed antibiotics to treat or prevent infection/re-infection.
Does it hurt?
Before having a root canal procedure you will be given a local anaesthetic. This means the procedure shouldn’t be painful, and should be no more unpleasant than an ordinary filling. There may be some minor discomfort or a little tenderness afterwards but this should gradually subside over time. You may also experience some sensitivity in the treated tooth (I’m speaking from personal experience!) and this may take up to a year to subside.
Root canals are usually successful and a tooth can survive for around 10 years after treatment.
What is the cost?
Root Canal treatment is a complex, skilled and lengthy a procedure so costs can work out be be quite expensive. Most private dentists start their root canal charges at approximately £360 per tooth, with the price rising on a sliding scale depending on the number of roots, the difficulty of the treatment, and the number of sessions needed. You may also have to pay separately for x-rays, antibiotics, and other peripherals. If you need to have a cap or a crown fitted then this will increase the cost further. Most private root canal bills are in the range £360 to £475 per tooth.
On the NHS root canal work is considerably cheaper and falls into ‘Band 2’ course of treatment. At the time of writing this article the cost for band 2 treatment is £51.30 (please be aware however that should you require additional treatments such as x-rays then these will be charged separately).
Teeth that have had a root canal may darken after treatment although this is less common with modern techniques. They should be treated just the same as any other tooth i.e. they need to be cleaned twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. You should also have regular check-ups with your dentist.
If you require further information then check out the NHS website article about Root Canal Treatment: