Endodontic treatment, a common and successful dental procedure that is otherwise known as root canal treatment, is when the living tissue inside a tooth – the pulp – is removed. The area is then cleaned, sealed and filled so that the tooth can be ‘saved’ from permanent damage that may otherwise lead to extraction.

Understand the tooth

The tooth is made up of two main parts: the visible part – the crown – and the root. Inside both the crown and the root is soft tissue called pulp, which contains blood vessels and nerves.

The pulp is present not only in the pulp chamber, which is inside the crown, but also the root, which extends all the way to the tip, called the root canal.

A root canal procedure may be necessary when the tooth decay has progressed into the pulp, producing a set of symptoms and a visit to the dentist.

Symptoms and other signs that root canal therapy may be necessary

There are several signs and symptoms that may indicate that a visit to the dentist for root canal treatment may be necessary.

1. Trauma

While tooth decay is the most common reason for root canal therapy, actual trauma to the tooth can also expose or damage the pulp or nerve. If trauma to the tooth has occurred, including fractured, dislodged, split, cracked or even knocked-out crowns, root canal therapy may be necessary.

2. Toothache

If tooth trauma has not occurred, the most common sign that root canal therapy may be necessary is toothache or tooth pain.

The pain may be mild or severe, and the intensity of the pain may come and go. Pain is often worse when biting down, for example when eating, and the gums can feel tender and even swollen around the troublesome tooth.

3. Sensitivity to temperature

Another symptom of decay requiring root canal treatment is sensitivity to temperature. Many people suffer some sensitivity to, for instance, hot or cold liquids or foods, but when that sensitivity is prolonged, or the pain is severe, that is a clear sign that root canal therapy may be necessary.

4. Other symptoms

There are other signs that root canal therapy may be necessary. If, for example, a bump, mini-ulcer, nodule or ‘pimple’ can be seen in the gum near the tooth, this can in fact be the body’s way of draining the pulp infection. The presence of pus, or an abscess, are other signs.

Pulp infections can also cause discolouration of the tooth crown, which can be another sign that root canal treatment is needed.

The procedure

Root canal therapy is done under local anaesthesia and is therefore painless, but although it will feel similar to getting an ordinary filling, it will take longer. Once complete, the symptoms of the infection should go away completely.

In short, the dentist will drill into the tooth crown so that all of the infected pulp can be reached and the pulp chamber is thoroughly cleaned and dried before it is permanently filled.

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