Root canal treatment (also called endodontics) is needed when the blood or nerve supply of your tooth (known as the pulp) is infected through decay or injury. You may not feel any pain in the early stages of the infection. In some cases, your tooth could darken in colour which may mean that the nerve of the tooth has died (or is dying).
If the pulp becomes infected, the infection may spread through the root canal system of your tooth. This may eventually lead to an abscess. An abscess is an inflamed area in which pus collects. It can cause swelling of the tissues around your tooth. The symptoms of an abscess can range from dull ache to severe pain and the tooth may be tender when you bite. If root canal treatment is not carried out, the infection will spread and your tooth may need to be taken out.
The aim of root canal treatment is to remove all infection from the root canal. It is a skilled and time-consuming procedure, and will normally involve two or more visits to your dentist. You will be given a local anaesthetic and it should feel no different to you than having an ordinary filling done.
At the first appointment, the infected pulp tissue is removed. Any abscesses which may be present can also be drained. A temporary filling is put in and your tooth is left to settle.
The root canal is then cleaned and shaped ready for the filling. A permanent filling is inserted into the root canals and a filling placed on top.
After a while the abscess disappears.
Removal of the pulp tissue means that your tooth can become brittle and break. Fitting a crown will help prolong its life.