It’s a cliché beloved of American comedy that people would rather have root canal treatment than do something they hate. But treatment is painless, straightforward and preferable to losing a tooth.
What is the root canal system?
The root canal system is the centre of the tooth and contains soft tissue, dental pulp, nerves and blood vessels. It extends from the crown (the part of the tooth that’s visible in the mouth) to the root of the tooth below the gum. Some teeth, such as the back teeth, have more than one root canal.
If the root canal becomes infected (such as through tooth decay, gum disease, problems with fillings or damage to the tooth) treatment will definitely be needed. If the infection continues, an abscess can develop, usually accompanied by severe pain. At this point most people are eager to get treatment and relieve the pain. Without the root canal procedure the infection will spread and the tooth may need to be extracted. Most people would rather have the treatment than suffer pain or lose a tooth. Losing a tooth can causes problems for adjacent teeth and can be more costly in the long term.
Root canal work may also be necessary even if there’s no pain. See out our list of signs and symptoms for possible root canal therapy. As with other dental issues, it is not always obvious there’s a problem, so regular check-ups at the dentist are very important.
What is the treatment?
Also called endodontics, the aim of root canal treatment is to get rid of the infection at the centre of the tooth. Treatment depends on the degree of infection. The dentist will drill into the tooth to remove the bacteria and clean the canal. Usually the dental pulp is badly infected and needs to be removed and replaced with a substance called Gutta Percha. The tooth is then sealed with a filling or a crown. Although the procedure usually takes more than one visit to the dentist, more modern techniques and effective anaesthetics mean that these days the whole process is no longer an ordeal. Most people find the experience similar to dental procedures like fillings or crowns.
The cliché has lost its bite
It’s time we laid the old root canal cliché to rest. More modern treatment techniques and more effective anaesthetic means root canal therapy is no longer an ordeal but a straightforward dental procedure.