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Being told by your dentist that you need a root canal can feel daunting and somewhat terrifying at the same time. There are many instances that may dictate that you need root canal treatment. However, it’s important to know that root canal treatment is carried out to alleviate dental pain, not to cause it.


So how do you know if you need a root canal procedure?

When you experience acute tooth pain that can’t be brought under control using over-the-counter pain relief then it could be that you are experiencing inflamed or infected pulp tissue. The dental pulp is an un-mineralised oral tissue compound that occupies the central pulp cavity of a tooth. It houses all the blood vessels and nerves which are central to tooth preservation. Sometimes when a crack in the tooth develops, then it creates a ‘way in’ for bacteria which can infect the dental pulp and the nerves within. As such, root canal treatment will need to be performed to save the tooth and get you out of pain.


What is a root canal? 

To avoid confusion, a root canal itself is an anatomic space within the root of a tooth that houses the pulp chamber, but when patients refer to the fact that they may need a ‘root canal’ they are in fact referring to the treatment itself. So that’s what we’re talking about here.

Essentially, a root canal is an endodontic procedure that involves the process of removing the infected pulp from the inside of your tooth thus stabilising it. If this procedure is not carried out, bacteria can spread down into the gums and the bone of the jaw. Without treatment, the tooth will almost certainly die and you may also be in some discomfort.

So while it sounds a horrific and painful treatment, this couldn’t be further from the truth and actually, in the hands of a skilled dentist, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the procedure so you have a better understanding of exactly what will happen and why? 


Step 1 – Local anaesthesia

With any root canal treatments, local anaesthesia is administered to numb the area. Dentists use anaesthesia to temporarily deactivate the nerves that may otherwise cause you to feel discomfort during the procedure. This is achieved by gently injecting the anesthetic directly into and around the area that they are looking to work on. Patients should remain awake and able to respond to instructions but should also remain comfortable.

Step 2 – Dental dam

Next, a small rubber sheet (usually latex or vinyl in nature) is applied to the mouth so that only the problem tooth is showing. This stops any bacteria often contained in saliva from entering the area once the root canal is underway.

By providing a sterile environment, a dental dam prevents the risk of further infection

Step 3 – Drilling

Using a precise dental drill with an endodontic bur attachment a small hole is drilled through the tooth crown down into the root canal chamber, exposing the infected dental pulp. The act of drilling creates an opening where the infected pulp can be extracted from.


Step 4 – Pulp removal

During the next part of the process, the infected pulp is carefully and gradually removed from one or more root canal chambers. This is carried out using a number of precision tools. It’s important that all the pulp is removed to ensure that there are no traces of infection left behind. For minor root canal cases, this may take around 30 minutes but complex cases can take 90 minutes or more.


Step 5 – Cleaning and disinfecting

Once all dental pulp has been removed, the empty root canal chamber is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. The primary aim of irrigation is to kill any microbes that are left behind and may involve chemicals like sodium hypochlorite or chlorhexidine which are safe and used worldwide in root canal treatment.


Step 6 – Widening the root canal area

The next step after disinfection and irrigation is to gradually widen the root canal areas. This is done using a variety of files, reamers and drills to ensure sufficient space to apply the thermoplastic filling material. As the canals are widened, more thorough cleaning is carried out. 


Step 7 – Filling and sealing the root canal chamber

Once the root canal/s have been cleaned or widened sufficiently, then the area is back-filled with a thermoplastic material like gutta-percha. Once this has been done, the root canal chamber is then closed off using an adhesive cement sealer. This prevents any further bacteria from re-entering the tooth and re-infecting it at a later stage.


Step 8 – Fitting a temporary crown

In most cases, a temporary crown is fitted over the top of the tooth after a root canal treatment to protect it in the first few weeks until a permanent crown can be made. The temporary crown will be attached and your bite adjusted. After this has been carried out, patients are able to go home. 

Your dentist will almost always prescribe you with antibiotics to ensure any infection stays away. It is common to feel a little tenderness in the area after a root canal but any discomfort should now be minimal and should only last a few days.


Step 9 – Permanent crown

A couple of weeks after a root canal procedure, you will be called back to the dental clinic so that your lifelike permanent crown can be fitted. During this process, the temporary crown is carefully removed and the permanent crown attached. Once fitted, you are good to go.


Hopefully, you now know what a root canal is and how we treat it, but if you do feel acute pain that is getting worse, then come and talk to the team at myDentist West Ryde about undergoing a root canal. To schedule an appointment call us on (02) 8073 9338. We provide quality dental care you can trust!

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