A root canal procedure (endodontic surgery) can save a tooth that would otherwise require extraction.
Learn more about what this treatment entails and discover quality-checked root canal dentists around the world with Dental Departures.
What Is Root Canal Treatment?
Root canal treatment, also called endodontic treatment, is a procedure performed on a tooth when the nerve inside has become infected, injured, or has died away.
Root canals are also performed on broken teeth in order to remove infection; often, the structure of the tooth is then reinforced using a dental crown or a bridge.
When Is a Root Canal Indicated?
When cavities or cracks form on a tooth, they allow bacteria to enter the tooth chamber, which is filled with nerves and blood vessels, known as pulp. The infection, or abscess, of the pulp can cause severe pain, swelling and sensitivity, though if the nerve has died in the tooth. If the abscess is very small, no pain may initially be observed.
Once that tissue becomes infected, the infected pulp must be removed in order to save the tooth.
A root canal procedure, including a post/core buildup and crown, can restore your tooth to proper structural strength, restore the cosmetic appearance, and prevent the need for extraction.
Root Canal: Diagram
The below image shows the structure of a tooth:
(Image: KDS444 WikiCommons)
How Is a Root Canal Procedure Carried Out?
Root canal treatment follows several steps, as outlined below. [Note: Treatment may require more than one visit to the dentist, depending on the complexity of work required, as well as any other procedures required to reinforce the structure of the tooth.]
- X-rays of the tooth and an initial examination by your dentist is performed
- Upon confirmation, the surrounding gums are numbed with a local anesthetic before the procedure begins
- A rubber dam is placed around the tooth to prevent bacteria from your mouth from entering the exposed chamber of the tooth
- The dentist makes an opening in the tooth to expose the infected pulp
- Using small, specialized dental instruments, the dentist carefully cleans out the infected pulp of the tooth
- After the infected pulp is removed, the dentist sterilizes the now-empty canal and chamber of the tooth
- The tooth is then filled and sealed with either a temporary or permanent filling
Is the Procedure Complete at This Point?
Technically, the root canal treatment is now finished, and any severe pain should be alleviated.
After the infected pulp of the tooth is removed and the root canal system cleaned and opened, your tooth will now have the same structural integrity as a normal tooth.
In some cases, the tooth will require further work with a post/core buildup and a crown, as explained below.
Tooth Restoration Following Root Canal Treatment
After the root canal treatment is performed, it may be necessary to build up the tooth in order to protect it and allow it to function normally.
- For minor root canals, this can be achieved by simply replacing the removed pulp with a permanent filling.
- For major root canals, and in most cases for molars, a crown is also necessary to build up the exterior of the tooth and provide it enough strength to chew normally without breaking.
- If a significant amount of the inner chamber of the tooth was removed, a post will provide adequate internal support for the tooth.
Extensive root canal treatments, including restoration of the tooth, require three components:
- Root canal treatment to remove the infected pulp from the tooth
- Post/core buildup of the tooth for internal strength
- A crown to provide external strength, allow normal chewing/eating capacity and provide proper cosmetic appearance, particularly for front teeth.
What If I Need a Retreatment on an Existing Root Canal?
Although more challenging than work on an original tooth, your endodontist can sometimes drill through an existing crown and perform the procedure.
Root canal re-treatments can be done, but are not always advisable, as they have a higher failure rate than initial treatments. Your endodontist can advise you if retreatment is recommended for your case, or whether replacing the tooth is a better long-term option.
How Long Does a Root Canal Take?
This depends on whether you need to have the root canal treatment only, or the root canal treatment and crown restoration.
Root Canal Treatment Only: With advance preparation, a root canal treatment can usually be completed in a matter of hours. If a large abscess or infection is present, it may be necessary to take antibiotics for several days before the root canal treatment can be started. If you need a root canal and have an upcoming trip, many dentists recommend getting on antibiotics several days before you arrive to ensure the best chance of being able to commence treatment as soon as possible upon arrival.
In cases where the tooth infection is severe, and no antibiotics were started before arrival, 7-10 days may be required to complete the root canal treatment. It is essential that all signs of infection are gone before the tooth is permanently sealed. Sometimes, a sanitizing/antibiotic solution is left in the tooth for several days before the tooth can be sealed or restored.
Root Canal Treatment + Restoration/Crown: Once the root canal treatment is completed with no remaining infection, the permanent restoration can take place. A post/core buildup of the tooth is then performed and impressions of the tooth are taken for the crown and sent to the dental laboratory. The dental laboratory will manufacture the crown, after which you'll return to the dentist to have it cemented in place, and for a final check-up. [Note: Some clinics may have on-site laboratories capable of creating dental crowns in one day.]
In order to determine the amount of time recommended for your case, contact your clinic for their recommended length of stay. If you have dental records or x-rays that can be sent by email, this greatly increases the accuracy of the time estimated and procedures needed to restore your tooth.
What Can I Expect Post-Treatment?
Root canal treatments have a high success rate when carried out by a fully-trained dentist.
Some swelling and soreness is normal following a root canal treatment. Severe pain or abnormally large swelling are signs that the treatment was not successful.
What Should I Know Before I Go?
- When carried out improperly, root canals can cause unnecessary pain, added time and expense, or even the loss of the tooth.
- Make sure that you visit a qualified, certified endodontist, or root canal specialist, in order to ensure you receive the best treatment from an experienced, highly trained professional.
- Ask your local dentist or doctor about whether you should start a program of antibiotics prior to your trip. This can save you significant time and travel expenses.
- Beware of suspiciously inexpensive root canals offered by rock-bottom priced dental clinics abroad. While a root canal procedure performed by a reliable specialist may cost you a bit more, you are likely to experience a better outcome while still saving money over the price you might have paid at home.
- Consult with a patient coordinator from Dental Departures to make sure you are visiting a reputable clinic that has a highly qualified endodontist who will perform your treatment.
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Watson, Shawn. Getting a Dental Crown on Your Tooth. Very Well Health. 29 July 2020. https://www.verywellhealth.com/getting-a-dental-crown-1059036
Fillings. Colgate. Website accessed: 13 January 2021. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/fillings
What’s the difference between a dentist and an endodontist? American Association of Endodontists. Website accessed: 13 January 2021. https://www.aae.org/patients/why-see-an-endodontist/whats-difference-dentist-endodontist/
What to expect from root canal treatment. Medical News Today. 26 July 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/142780
Core Buildup, Post and Core and Pin Retention. United Healthcare Dental. 1 July 2020. https://www.uhcprovider.com/content/dam/provider/docs/public/policies/dental/core-buildup-post-core-pin-retention.pdf