Root canal treatment is necessary when the nerve or blood supply through the root of a tooth (known as the pulp) becomes infected. Infection is normally caused by decay or by an injury to the mouth.
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If this infection is left untreated, it can become extremely painful and an abscess may appear. An abscess is a swelling around the tooth caused by a build-up of pus. Abscesses are often extremely painful, and if the infection is left to spread, the entire tooth may eventually die and have to be removed. Root canal treatment is used to remove all of the infected pulp from the root canal. The root can then be cleaned and filled to prevent the risk of further infection.
Root canal treatment is not normally a painful procedure. Local anaesthetic is applied to prevent any discomfort, and the process should feel the same as being given an ordinary filling. It does take longer, however, and will usually involve at least two visits.
During the first visit, your dentist will remove all of the infected pulp from the root canal and drain any abscesses. The root canal is then cleaned and a temporary filling applied. More visits are required to check for further infection.
Once your dentist is satisfied that all the infection has been cleared, you will be given a permanent filling.
In the past, it was common for a tooth to turn darker after root canal treatment. But modern techniques usually avoid this happening. If there is discolouration after a root canal procedure, there are several treatments such as veneers and teeth whitening which can be used to restore the tooth's natural appearance.
Sometimes, a tooth may need to be fitted with a crown after treatment, in order to give it extra strength. On rare occasions, the infection may return, in which case further root canal treatment will be required.