Root Canal Therapy
What is root canal therapy?
When the nerve (pulp) inside the tooth has become infected and the nerve tissue dies, it needs to be removed before the infection effects other teeth. The process of removing the necrotic tissue, cleaning and filling the root canals is called root canal therapy or Endodontics.
How does a nerve become infected or die?
The most common cause is tooth decay that has progressed deep into the tooth, the bacteria infecting the nerve chamber. This is irreversible and the infection causes the tissue to die and often results in an abscess at the tip of the root in the jaw bone. The nerve can also die as a result of injury from trauma such as a knock, a crack or chip. In some instances, a tooth may have a filling for some years before the nerve becomes effected. Even though the tooth has been diligently restored and the filling intact, the trauma to the tooth from the original decay or trauma could effect the nerve many months or years down the track.
What are the signs and symptoms of a dying nerve?
The most common symptoms are hyper-sensitivity to cold or heat on the tooth as well as pain. Pain on chewing or biting may indicate an abscess forming. Nerve pain can wake you up at night and in severe cases, the pain can not be relieved with pain medication. A common sign of a dead nerve, especially on front teeth, is a change in the colour of the tooth to a darker yellow or grey. Some ‘dead’ teeth cause very little symptoms but your dentist’s trained eye and an xray of the tooth may pick up the silent signs.
What is the root canal treatment process?
- The dentist will examine the tooth and adjacent teeth, perform tests to assess the health and vitality of the nerve and take an xray of the tooth. The xray shows the entire length of the tooth down to the tip of the root and often, the damage from the decay and the abscess is clear. Your dentist will advise you of your options, the costs involved, payment options and number of visits involved (usually 2-3).
- The first visit will most likely alleviate your pain and symptoms. The tooth is numbed gently with a local anaesthetic and the infected or necrotic tissue is cleaned from the root canals. A soothing antibiotic medication is placed in the tooth and a temporary filling protects the tooth until the next visit. Depending on the severity of the infection, your dentist may recommend a course of antibiotics to reduce the infection and the next visit scheduled in 2-6 weeks. It’s important to know that the pain will subside after this initial treatment, however as the treatment is incomplete, the infection can return and the tooth will have to re-treated at additional expense.
- To complete the treatment, a further 1-2 visits will be required. The root canals are thoroughly cleaned and sterilised before being filled to seal the root canal and nerve chamber from bacteria.
- A new filling is bonded to restore the tooth structure.
- For larger teeth or fillings that will now be prone to breaks or fractures, a dental crown may be recommended to strengthen and protect the tooth. RCT teeth are brittle as they have no blood supply, so this additional step will protect your tooth. Your dentist will advise you if this is beneficial in your case and discuss the costs and process for this treatment.
- Treat the infection and alleviate pain
- Prevention of infection spreading any further
- Restoration of tooth to its natural look and feel.
- Saves the tooth from extraction
Is root canal treatment painful?
In most instances, root canal treatment is a comfortable, pain-free experience. The tooth is numbed gently with a local anesthetic before treatment is commenced. An antibiotic is placed inside the tooth after the first treatment to help heal from the nerve infection. If you feel any discomfort after a visit, paracetamol can be very effective. When the nerve inside the tooth is severely infected and a large abscess has formed at the tip of the root, it may be difficult for the dentist to numb the tooth adequately. In these situations, your dentist may recommend a course of antibiotics to reduce the infection prior to starting treatment so it will be more comfortable for you.
How long do root canal treated teeth last?
Even though the tooth has no nerve inside the root canal, it is still susceptible to all the usual concerns live teeth have such as decay, gum disease and fractures. Most RCT teeth, especially molars, are strengthened and protected with a new bonded filling and dental crown. These teeth can last decades when cared for properly. Take excellent care of your RCT tooth with good home care and regular dental visits and hygiene treatment, and they can last decades.
Can I claim or pay off my root canal treatment?
Certainly! If you are covered for root canal therapy, you will be eligible* for a rebate from your dental fund. We also offer interest free payment plans* from Humm where you pay a portion upfront and pay off the remainder over 3-12 months. Ask us to help you check your eligibility. (*T&Cs apply)
What are the alternatives to root canal therapy?
Root canal therapy saves the tooth by removing the infected nerve and restoring the tooth. The alternative treatment is to extract the tooth and replace it with a dental implant. Other replacement options could be a dental bridge or a removable partial denture. Replacement options often cost the same or more than a root canal treatment. Extracting a tooth and leaving a gap can cause unexpected issues. Large gaps in between teeth can cause other teeth to drift out of alignment, over-eruption exposing the vulnerable root surface of the tooth or leaning over causing food catches which lead to gum infections.