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Endodontics (Root Canal Treatment)

Root canal treatment, also known as endodontics, is a dental procedure designed to treat infection or decay that has occurred at the centre of the tooth.

The structure of the tooth

A tooth is made up of three parts:

  • the enamel, which is the hard outer coating of a tooth
  • the dentin, a softer, bone-like material that supports the enamel, and
  • the pulp, which is soft tissue at the centre of the tooth

The root canal

The pulp has a path that runs down through the inside of the tooth (marked here in purple) and into the gum and jawbone. This path is known as a root canal because it helps to keep the tooth rooted in place. In some cases, a single tooth can have more than one root canal.

The term root canal is slightly misleading because it implies that the pulp and the root canal of the tooth are empty. However, the pulp and the root canal are made up of soft tissue that contains nerves and blood vessels.

If the pulp becomes infected by bacteria it will begin to die, which could result in the loss of the tooth. There is also the risk that the infection could spread down into the root canal, which may lead to the development of a painful dental abscess (a pus-filled swelling). The infection could then spread to your gums (gingivitis) or the tissue and bones that support your teeth (periodontitis).

Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment is designed to save the tooth and prevent the spread of infection. The damaged pulp is removed from the tooth and the root canal is then cleaned of all bacteria. After the bacteria has been removed, the root canal and pulp are filled in using an artificial substance, before being sealed.

Is root canal treatment painful?

Root canal treatment is commonly perceived as being a painful procedure. In fact, in the hands of a properly trained dentist, root canal treatment is relatively painless, and it should be no more unpleasant than having a filling done.

Is it available on the NHS?

Root canal is performed under NHS Band 2, however, some cases can be quite complex and the root form difficult to clean out. In these cases your dentist may suggest you be referred to an Endodontist to improve the success rate of the treatment. An Endodontist is a dentist with specialist training, equipment and experience to deal with them well. A specialist will use a surgical microscope during treatment, to magnify the tooth to approximately x20, to enhance success rates. Unfortunately, there are no Endodontic provisions under the NHS. Options available are Private referral or Referral to Dental Hospital for treatment by a Trainee Endodontist, however, the wait for this option can be very lengthy.

If your dentist recommends referral to an Endodontist, your options and reason for referral will be discussed thoroughly.