Otherwise known as endodontics, are performed to treat infection and/or inflammation at the centre of the tooth. Underneath the enamel of the tooth, lies the dentine. Inside the dentine, you find the pulp chamber which contains the root canal system and the pulp. The pulp is the living tissue which keeps the tooth alive, containing the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues. It is the pulp which helps grow the root of the tooth during childhood. In adulthood, the tooth can live without the pulp as it draws its nourishment from the surrounding tissue instead.
There are various reasons why root canals are performed and they all involve bacterial infection and inflammation. The infection or inflammation can be caused by a cracked or chipped tooth, an injured tooth caused by an impact of some description, leaky fillings, deep decay or extensive dental work over a long period of time.
X-rays will reveal whether the pulp has been compromised by a bacterial infection. Outward signs which show root canals may be needed include tooth sensitivity to hot and cold food, a loose tooth, pain when eating, swelling of the gum and/or the cheek, the tooth darkening and pus in the affected area.
A root canal treatment simply removes the bacteria from the root canal system. The root canal is then filled and the tooth is sealed with a crown or a filling. The dental practitioner will administer a local anaesthetic, as he/she would for a normal filling. The procedure will therefore be painless. Patients are often given antibiotics after root canals to ensure there is no infection in the treated area. Patients should not bite or chew on the treated tooth for a couple of days after the root canal. A little bit of discomfort is the be expected after such an invasive treatment but it will soon pass.