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Root Canal Treatment - Frequently asked questions

What Is Root Canal Treatment?


Root canal treatment is the management of the space inside a tooth where the nerve and blood vessels is.  Bacteria can get into this space through decay or cracks in the tooth. Bacteria in the nerve space of a tooth can cause irritation of the nerve which results in the tooth being more sensitive to hot and cold things. The more damaged the nerve in the tooth is, the more painful and easily irritated it can become. If the nerve in the tooth is irreversibly damaged, it needs to be removed – this is root canal treatment.


Bacteria entering the nerve space can also lead to infection and inflammation of the ligaments which hold the tooth in place. This causes pain from the tooth which is brought on by touching the tooth or biting with it. If the area under a tooth is infected, there can be a swelling in the gum which comes and goes. Sometimes there is a bad taste from your mouth – this can be pus, or infection, draining from the swelling under the tooth.


What is the difference between a ‘Root Canal’ and a ‘Root Filling’?


These terms are often used interchangeably but are subtly different. The root canal is the space inside the tooth where the nerve normally lives. Bacteria entering this space is what causes pain. Root canal treatment is designed to remove the bacteria from within this space.


A root filling is the procedure which is performed to then seal the space inside the tooth. Once the space in the tooth has been cleaned and disinfected, a root filling material is than placed to completely seal the space. This seal prevents bacteria from re-establishing inside the tooth.


How root canal treatment works?


The aim of root canal treatment is to thoroughly clean the space inside the tooth. This cleaning is done using local anaesthetic and is pain free. The process of cleaning removes any remaining nerve tissue from inside the tooth and reduced the amount of bacteria in the tooth. Once the source of the problem has been removed, your body’s immune system is able to do the rest and the tooth is normally back to normal a day or too after treatment.


How many appointments are needed for a root filling?


We will want to see you first for a consultation appointment. This appointment is so we can meet you and discuss the treatment with you. During this consultation appointment, we will also fully evaluate the tooth your dentist has asked us to treat (or teeth when there is more than one issue!). At this assessment, we are looking to see why the tooth has become problematic or why previous root canal treatment has not worked. We are also looking to make sure there are no signs of any cracks or breaks in the tooth which would let bacteria re-infect the tooth after we have cleaned it. A crack or fracture down the root of a tooth is the most common cause root canal treatments fail and we will only want to recommend treatment if we think there is a good chance of a successful outcome.


After you have been assessed, we will write to you (normally e-mail) explaining what our findings were at the consultation appointment and what treatment we are recommending. There will be a clear estimate of costs provided before treatment starts.


Treatment is normally performed over two hour long appointments. The first visit is to remove the bacteria from inside the tooth and the second visit to seal the space in the tooth and place a permanent filling in the centre of the tooth. Between the two visits, we will place a disinfectant paste inside the tooth, which continues to remove bacteria, and a temporary filling in the access hole we make in the centre of the tooth.


Does Root Canal Treatment Hurt?


We use local anaesthetic to numb the tooth before treatment starts and the procedure should be pain free. Normally, the only thing people comment on is that their jaw is a bit achy afterwards from keeping their mouth open!


Root canal treatment does have a reputation for being a painful, unpleasant procedure. This is because sometimes, when the nerve inside a tooth is acutely inflamed, anaesthetic can sometimes not work completely. This situation is unusual (called ‘Hot Pulp Syndrome’) but can be managed. We are equipped with state of the art local anaesthetic delivery devices (such as ‘the Wand’) which allow anaesthetic to be precisely delivered to a tooth. Sometimes, it is not possible to completely clean the tooth and rather than persist with something which is painful, we can put some medicine inside the tooth which settles the nerve and we will arrange to see you again. Once the medicine has reduced the inflammation of the nerve in the tooth, the procedure would then be pain free as most people experience.


We will not try to undertake treatment on a tooth which has not gone numb. Modern dentistry has moved on from the horrors people experienced in the past!



What if it is not possible to clean the nerve space in a tooth?


Sometimes, the nerve space in a tooth is completely blocked, or there has been previous dental work which is blocking access into the space. In these situations, it may be possible to clean the end of  the tooth using a   surgical technique where a small cut is placed in the gum above the root of the tooth and the tooth cleaned from the other end. If the tooth has more than one root, it may be possible to remove part of the tooth and keep the rest of the tooth we have been able to treat.



Why has my dentist referred me for root canal treatment?


It can sometimes be difficult to find all the spaces inside a tooth to clean it thoroughly, or a root filling may have previously been done and not worked. Using digital imaging and three dimensional x-rays we can thoroughly assess teeth to diagnose the underlying cause of a problem. When cleaning inside a tooth, using an operating microscope, we are able to illuminate and magnify the complex spaces inside a tooth which gives a much greater chance of cleaning the entire space in the tooth. As we do root fillings on a daily basis, we have been able to invest in state of the art equipment to offer the best prognosis for treatment and the dentists who perform root canal treatment at the practice have a lot of experience in this area.

I've got a question you haven't answered!

Please ask us! We see new patients every day for root canal treatment who travel to our clinic in Newcastle from throughout the North East (and further afield!) If you have a question, no matter how silly you may think it is, we have probably been asked it before and really want you to fully understand everything before starting treatment. 

We love talking teeth so don't be afraid to get in touch!

Either call us on 0191 286 3398 where a friendly member of our reception team will be able to help (or pass you onto our clinical team if they can't), email us or message us below;

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