When teeth become deeply infected through factors like tooth decay, gum disease or trauma, the result can be that the dental nerve within becomes irreversibly damaged and may even perish altogether. Left untreated, the infection can lead to abscesses forming in the surrounding tissue and it can even spread to other areas of the body.
Root canal therapy is a treatment that is designed to save the tooth by removing the damaged nerve tissue (also known as pulp) and any infected material surrounding it. The root canal is then cleaned, filled with a biologically compatible material called gutta percha and sealed with a filling or crown.
In the vast majority of cases root canal therapy saves a tooth that would otherwise have to be extracted. Approximately 95% of teeth are saved through this intervention — the nerve is not essential to the function of the tooth and it can in some cases survive for the rest of the patient’s life without it. The procedure is painless and safe.
The first signs of infected pulp are typically pain when eating and chewing and sensitivity to hot and cold. Sometimes the tooth may become loose. It is important that you visit the dentist if you have any of these symptoms, so an X-ray can establish whether the symptoms are the result of a dental nerve infection.
If ignored these early symptoms can go away on their own, leading people to believe that the problem is gone — what has in fact happened is that the nerve has died. A recurrence of pain when chewing along with more severe symptoms such as swelling of the gums and face and pus may follow as the infection continues to spread. It’s important to note that antibiotics are not effective in treating root canal infections.
Root canal treatment is likely to help you to keep a tooth that would otherwise be at risk. The alternative is extraction and, if you want the tooth replaced, a dental bridge, denture or implant — all treatments that are more expensive than root canal therapy.