Root canal procedure: what you need to know
Why might you need a root canal procedure?
The exterior of teeth are made from enamel, a very hard and durable substance, whilst the inside of every tooth is made of tissues and nerves that are protected by the enamel. If your tooth enamel is damaged, either by a crack or break, or due to the enamel being worn away, bacteria can enter the tooth and damage the interior, resulting in decay and infection, and potentially also abscesses. If not treated, this infection can spread to surrounding tissue and bone, so it’s important that any tooth that has had the enamel damaged is treated as quickly as possible. Root canal treatment is the procedure that removes any decay and infection, whilst saving the tooth from needing to be extracted at this point.
Your dentist will usually take x-rays of your teeth to determine the level of damage and whether root canal treatment is required.
What is the root canal procedure timescale?
There are a few different stages to root canal treatment, so it is usually not carried out at the point of diagnosis, but will be scheduled for a separate appointment. It’s often possible for the entire root canal procedure to be carried out in one visit, lasting up to a couple of hours, but sometimes an additional visit might be required for more complex cases.
What are the different root canal treatment stages?
There are four major stages to root canal treatment, sometimes followed by a fifth, if necessary.
- Preparing the tooth
In order to minimise pain and discomfort during the procedure, a local anaesthetic is used in the area around the affected tooth to prepare you for the treatment. This will numb the area and means that you should feel no pain. Sometimes a dental dam (also known as a cofferdam) is then used around the tooth to give the dentist an area to work that also protects the rest of the teeth and mouth.
- Opening the tooth’s affected area
Even if there is already a hole or crack in the tooth, the dentist must create a larger hole to gain access to the tissue and roots. The dentist will drill a hole in the tooth to do this, in a similar way to a regular filling, but deeper. Due to the anaesthetic, the patient won’t feel any pain. The dentist can then remove the pulp from inside the root canal(s). This is often the stage of the procedure that takes the longest.
- Cleaning the affected area
Once the pulp has been extracted from the tooth and root canal(s), the area needs to be cleaned in order for all bacteria and any remaining debris to be completely removed. This stage is vital to help ensure that the infection cannot return. It is usually done with syringes flushing the inside of the tooth and root canal(s) until it is completely clear. The area is then dried, making the tooth ready to be filled.
- Filling the roots and tooth
The tooth and roots are now clean and ready to be filled. The dentist should ensure there are no gaps in the filling material to avoid any bacteria re-growing. The filling material goes all the way down into the root canal(s), and a normal filling is applied on top.
- Fitting a crown
It is not always necessary to fit a crown to the tooth that has undergone a root canal procedure, but it can sometimes be the best way to give the treatment the best chance of long term success, as it gives the tooth another layer of protection. The crown will usually be fitted at a future appointment as this allows time to see if the root canal procedure has succeeded and a mould must be made of your teeth to ensure a good fit for the crown, which will be custom-made.
Are root canal treatments always successful?
Root canal treatment has a success rate of around 90%, if the procedure is carried out to a good standard. However, although failure is rare, the procedure is not always successful, especially if the dentist carrying out the treatment does not do so with an appropriate degree of skill and attention.
If you have experienced a failed root canal procedure that you believe was due to the negligence of your dentist, you may be eligible to make a compensation claim. Contact us to discuss your options and for free initial legal advice, on 0808 231 5116.