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Root canal treatment

A root canal is an endodontic treatment used to save a tooth with an infected or dead pulp and prevent the infection from spreading. A root canal saves the affected tooth by cleaning out the diseased pulp and reshaping the canal.

Pulp exists inside each tooth, providing the tooth with nerves and nutrients. The pulp tissue can sometimes die if it is damaged or diseased. Once the nerve and pulp is removed, the root canal is cleaned and sealed for protection. A crown is then placed over the tooth to increase its strength.

In the past, teeth with damaged pulps were removed. Today, root canal treatment has provided dentists with a safe solution for saving the tooth and maintaining your natural smile.


When is a root canal treatment recommended?

You may have visited the dental practitioner if you had symptoms of a pulp infection such as: 


  • pain when eating or drinking hot or cold food or drink 

  • pain when biting or chewing

  • a loose tooth 

  • swelling of the gum near the infected tooth 

  • pus oozing from around the infected tooth 

  • facial swelling

  • the tooth getting darker in colour. 

An x-ray of your tooth may show the cause of pain or infection. Antibiotics are not effective in treating root canal infections. The two treatment options are removing the tooth or having a root canal treatment.

Why get a root canal?

It's quite common to ask, "Is it necessary to get endodontic treatment?" Or, "What would happen if you leave a root canal untreated?" Your tooth cannot heal by itself. If left untreated, the infection could lead to:


  • An abscess forming at the root of the tooth

  • Deterioration of the underlying bone tissue

  • Severe pain

Delaying treatment for too long can make it impossible for your dentist to save your tooth
The infection can also spread to neighbouring teeth, potentially leading to:


  • Illness

  • Blood poisoning

  • Fevers

  • Swelling of the face and neck

What happens during a root canal treatment?

A root canal is usually a simple procedure with little or no discomfort. It involves one to three visits to a dentist.

Here is a step-by-step guide to how the procedure saves your tooth:


  • Your dentist makes an opening through the top of the tooth down to the pulp chamber.

  • The injured or dead pulp is taken out and the root canals are irrigated and medicated.

  • A temporary filling is placed in the opening at the top of the tooth in order to protect it between procedures. Alternatively, the tooth may be left open to drain for a couple of days.

  • The temporary filling gets removed and the pulp chamber and root canal(s) are cleaned then filled.

  • A crown is placed over the tooth. The endodontist performing the treatment will advise you to see your dentist to complete this last step.


Most patients report that having a root canal treatment today is as unremarkable as getting a filling.

Risks and complications

Uncommon risks and complications include: 


  • the fine metal files used to clean inside the root canals may break during use and remain in the tooth, and the tooth may need to be removed 

  • depending on the size and shape of the roots, there is some risk of creating a hole in the side of a tooth root during the cleaning process

  • severe or persistent pain: return to your treating dental practitioner 

  • infection: return to your treating dental practitioner

  • treatment failure: the tooth may require further treatment or extraction if it is unable to be saved

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