This is perhaps the dental procedure that instills the most fear in patients, as well as the procedure that is most misunderstood. What is the root canal? Your teeth are really living organs that contain nerves and blood vessels, which are collectively called the pulp and are found in the centre of the tooth. The long canals within the tooth that contain the pulp are called the root canals.
The pulp can get injured for various reasons, most commonly when decay goes so deep that bacteria infects the pulp. This infection then spreads through the root canal and into the underlying bone. This can result in pain, swelling and mobility of teeth. The purpose of root canal treatment is to disinfect the root canals and keep it free of bacteria.
Root canal treatment consists of two stages. First, your GP will clean and disinfect the canal. In dental jargon, this is called cleaning and shaping. Next, the canal will be filled to prevent the bacteria from returning. This is called obturation. The two stages can be done either at the same visit or, more often, in separate sessions.
After root canal treatment is completed, a filling or crown is needed to seal off the canal and to restore the tooth to its original shape.
Fig1. Note the dark area around the tip of the root – an indication of infection in the bone.
Fig2. Completed root canal treatment