A root canal treatment is a filling that is placed right through the middle of the tooth, to replace a missing pulp (nerve), when it has become infected. Some reasons that this might happen are because of decay, a crack, trauma, an unbalanced strain on the tooth because of adjacent missing teeth, or a deep filling that is close to the nerve. The procedure normally involves being numbed up with local anaesthetic, clipping a small rubber mat over the offending tooth, and cleaning and flushing out the infected pulp, and removal of the infected tooth structure. Antibiotics are placed through the root canal system, and the tooth is sealed in the first stage of treatment, which takes approximately 1 hour. Some teeth are easily attended to because the canals are accessible and straight up and down. Other times the root system is very complex, with up to five opening inside the tooth, which travel in narrow canals, with hooks etc, which can be extremely difficult to access and clean. The second appointment, for 1 hour involves flushing the inside of the tooth and the sealing of the canal/s with latex points and a specialised cement, and sealing of the access point. Sometimes a referral to an endodontist (root canal specialist) is required to successfully treat a very complex case. Root canal treatment is 95% successful, so that most teeth are able to be saved.
It is important to recognise that discomfort can be associated with root canal treatment, however this can be minimised by attending to a problem earlier rather than later. The worst case is for someone who presents with a festering tooth, which is already very painful, and has been painful for some time, which is then unpleasant for the patient, and difficult for the dentist to sort out. Attending to an issue sooner, is likely to result in less pain, and a better outcome.