Root canal treatment (also known as endodontics) is needed when the blood or nerve supply of the tooth (known as the pulp) is infected through decay or injury. You might need root canal treatment if you have:
an abscess (a pus-filled swelling) at the end of a tooth or in the gum
toothache that causes severe pain, especially if you have swelling of the face
pain in a tooth that persists after having dental treatment such as a filling
If you have an abscess, this can cause:
- Swelling of your jaw making it difficult to open your mouth
- Swollen glands in your neck
- Bad breath
a bitter taste in your mouth that does not go away when you brush your teeth and clean your tongue
swelling above an upper tooth causing an indentation in your forehead below your eye on one side (where the infection has spread into the sinus cavity)
Is Root Canal Treatment Painful?
Root canal treatment is not painful. The procedure is usually carried out over two or more visits.
On your first visit, the dentist will take an x-ray to look at the root of the tooth and check the surrounding bone. They will check whether you feel any pain when they press on the tooth (this is called percussion).
You may have gauze placed over the tooth to keep it dry and be asked to bite on it for a few minutes. The dentist will then remove any decay and clean inside the tooth with special instruments to remove all traces of infection.
Next, a temporary filling is placed in the tooth to protect it from saliva and food debris until your next visit. If you’re in pain, they may prescribe you some antibiotics or medication to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. On your next visit, this temporary filling will be removed and replaced with a permanent filling or crown (which covers the whole tooth).
When Should I Have Root Canal Treatment?
Your dentist will need to examine you and x-ray your mouth before recommending root canal treatment. The sooner you have it done, the more likely it is that your tooth can be saved. The worst thing to do is ignore a toothache – if you do that, it’s likely that the infection will spread and you’ll end up losing the tooth anyway.
Even if you don’t feel any pain, if there’s an infection in the root of your tooth, it could spread and become serious. Your dentist might refer you to a specialist called an endodontist if they think that you need root canal treatment on a difficult-to-reach tooth.