The inflamed pulp may cause toothache or remain pain-free. When the pulp dies, the space it inhabits (the root canal) rapidly becomes infected with bacteria. This may cause pain and swelling in the supporting tissues (abscess) or the tooth may remain symptom-free.
The purpose of root canal treatment is to remove the inflamed tissue or bacteria inside the root canal and thus allow the surrounding tissues to heal. After cleaning the root canal system, the space created is filled with a root filling. A rubber material called gutta percha is used as the root filling material.
The root canal system, especially in molars, is often complex and difficult to clean completely. This is why many general dentists prefer to refer these cases to a specialist.
The treatment is time consuming because of its complexity but with the use of modern local anaesthetic techniques it can be performed with little or no discomfort. It is normal for patients to experience some soreness after treatment, as the supporting tissues of the tooth may be a little bruised.
The success rates of first time root canal treatments is over 90%, while the success rate is reduced to about 80% when an existing root treatment needs redoing if it has failed.
Why does root canal treatment take so long?
The treatment time of root canal treatment will depend on the complexity and number of canals in the tooth. Some complicated cases may take even longer. Root canals are often complex structures and may be very small, even invisible to the naked eye. It is not uncommon to find four or five canals in a molar tooth, the smallest of these often being less than .05 mm in diameter.
Root canal treatment on a molar tooth will normally take from ninety minutes to three hours.
Between visits anti-bacterial medicaments are placed inside the canals to kill any remaining bacteria. This dressing is usually in place for a period of one week, during which the tooth is sealed with a temporary filling.
It is normal for teeth to be slightly tender sore for a few days after root canal treatment. This discomfort is normally from the inflamed supporting tissues surrounding the tips of the roots. Some teeth, particularly ones that have been problematic for a while, may take a few months to settle completely. Once the root-treated tooth has settled down completely a crown should be placed to protect the remaining tooth structure from fracture.