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Root Canal Treatment: What, Why & When

written by Dr Joshua Chong

May 18, 2020

What Is Root Canal Treatment?

Inside each tooth, contains a chamber in the middle that has one or more canals extending through the roots of the tooth. This chamber provides nerves and blood vessels that nourish the tooth. Root canal treatment in the simplest form – is removing this nerve from its home, cleaning the space with detergents and sealing this space.

The term “root canal treatment” often makes patients think of painful, long procedures and left wondering why a filling cannot be done instead. 

When Do You Need Root Canal Treatment?

It very much is dependent on how healthy the nerve/pulp is. This nerve has very little ability for it to defend itself from bacteria; once bacteria has infected the pulp/nerve, the tooth cannot heal itself and will eventually develop into an infection. Common ways for bacteria to reach the nerve:

  • Cavities / Decay:  An untreated hole in your tooth will continue to destroy your tooth structure, eventually reaching the chamber that contains your nerve.
  • Cracks:  A crack in your tooth can extend from the outside (and if severe enough) through to the pulp chamber. This then provides a pathway for bacteria in your mouth to travel into your tooth and on to your nerve.
  • Trauma: A hard enough knock can sometimes cause tooth fractures that exposes the pulp. In these cases there will be extreme sensitivity/pain

**In some instances, a tooth can appear undamaged externally after trauma but the nerve inside can die over time. These cases will need to be monitored carefully for signs of tooth discolouration (going darker) or pain

Causes of tooth pain & discomfort

Once the bacteria has caused inflammation of the pulp the symptoms tend to worsen (which may commonly include, but not limited to) –

  • Lingering pain to hot and cold food or drinks
  • Spontaneous pain – pain that occurs without touching the tooth or eating
  • Pain that tends to worsen at night – particularly when lying down

In some cases if the inflamed pulp is left long enough, it will die and this may result in the pain subsiding or in some cases a nerve may have died “silently” meaning without any symptoms. However, this does not mean the infection is gone and you may notice other symptoms, such as:

  • Abscess – pimple that appears on the gum
  • Mobility – tooth may feel “shaky”
  • Tooth is tender to bite on

Alternative options to root canal treatment?

Once the bacteria reaches the chamber inside your tooth, they remain there and multiply, meaning this tooth is now a source of bacteria causing the infection. We have two options to resolve the problem:

  • Root canal treatment:  removing any infected nerve that is left, cleaning and disinfecting the chamber and canals, and finally sealing the chamber and canals.
  • Extraction:  this removes the whole tooth along with all the bacteria inside it.

What about a filling or antibiotics? 

  • Filling:  a filling does not remove the inflamed nerve tissue and thus will not solve the problem. This can only be done if we can determine the pulp is still healthy.
  • Antibiotics:  is generally a temporary solution, it may help to reduce the infection, but the source of the bacteria (inside your tooth) will remain, and eventually when they build up again, an infection will recur.

The root canal treatment will be done with local anaesthetic to ensure you are comfortable throughout the procedure. Following each appointment, there is no downtime – which means you are good to continue your daily routine. Root canal treatment provides you the option to keep your tooth, making sure it is healthy and comfortable for you to continue using. A dentist will often advise to place a crown over the tooth to reinforce the weakened tooth and prevent reinfection.

If you have further questions regarding root canal treatment or would like to make an appointment, please do contact us!

    Dr. Joshua Chong is a medical director and senior dentist at NoFrills Dental. He graduated from the University of Queensland with Honours in 2014. Following a year of private practice in Australia, he moved to Singapore and continued to work in the private sector.

    Dr. Joshua Chong understands that visiting the dentist can be very daunting for some. He aims to provide a calm environment and practice pain-free dentistry, taking the time to ensure that patients are comfortable and well informed throughout their visit.

    Dr. Joshua Chong believes in minimally invasive approach and preventive dentistry. He currently provides a range of dental procedures and particularly takes an interest in restorative dentistry and root canal treatment.

    Book an appointment with Dr Joshua Chong!

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