Root canal treatment (also called endodontics) tackles infection at the centre of a tooth (the root canal system). The blood or nerve supply of the tooth has become infected. If root canal treatment is not carried out, the infection will spread and the tooth may need to be taken out. During treatment, all the infection is removed from inside the root canal system. The root canal is filled and the tooth is sealed with a filling or crown to stop it becoming infected again. Root canal treatment usually requires two or three visits to your dentist. Root fillings, or root canal treatments, are required when a large cavity in a tooth reaches the nerve chamber, or in some cases when a tooth breaks. The decayed nerve needs to be removed and the root space filled. A root filling will often allow you to keep a tooth which would otherwise have to be extracted and replaced with a bridge, denture or implant.
Within every tooth is a nerve chamber and a blood supply in the root canal. In a healthy tooth, these nerves will be alive. Front teeth will normally have one root holding them in the jaw bone, but back teeth can have two, three or four. If a large cavity in a tooth reaches the nerve chamber, or if a tooth breaks, bacteria can cause the nerves to die. The root canals can become infected and an abscess may form beneath the root(s) of the tooth, in the jawbone. Pain (occasionally severe) may occur at any time during this process, and the infection can spread. Treatment is usually carried out over one or two visits. The purpose of the treatment is to remove the bacteria or dying tissue from inside the tooth and to clean and disinfect the root canals. This is achieved by making a small hole through the tooth into the nerve chamber, locating and measuring the root canals, then cleaning and widening them using fine instruments. Local anaesthetic is used throughout the procedure to avoid any discomfort. To aid the instrumentation of these intricate channels to the tooth, magnification may be used and, if possible, the tooth will usually be isolated to keep the area dry and clear. Once clean, the canals are filled to seal them off from re-infection. In most cases, infections will start to heal at this point. Most patients only experience mild discomfort following treatment, but it is common to experience none at all.