Root canal treatment may sound scary but it’s considered a general dentistry procedure with thousands performed every year. It’s no more painful than having a filling, however root canal treatment takes much longer. For many people, the cost of treatment is the scariest part.
What is Root Canal Treatment?
A root canal treatment is the removal of soft tissue, known as the pulp inside the tooth’s root, while preserving the outer tooth. The pulp is made of blood vessels, connective tissues and nerves. It's the living tissue that connects the bone and gums. After removing the infection or inflammation, the tooth is sealed so new bacteria can’t enter. General dentists perform root canals and endodontists are specialists in the field.
When does a tooth need root canal therapy?
The main reason for root canal therapy is damage of the pulp tissue of teeth by letting bacteria in. Age is also a common cause as the nerves inside our teeth deteriorate with time.
How is root canal treatment performed?
There are several steps involved in root canal treatment. Before starting, a dentist will take x-rays to check on the number and shape of the root canals. The x-ray will also identify any infection in the bone around the tooth.
The dentist numbs the area of treatment around the tooth.
A small hole is drilled into the tooth to access the pulp tissue. The infection and damaged tissue are removed from inside the tooth, and slowly the tooth is cleaned.
After rinsing the inside of the tooth multiple times to remove any remaining tissue or infection, medication is applied to kill off any residual bacteria. A sterile filling is placed inside the tooth as a replacement of the pulp. If the dentist finds a weak root canal, it may strengthen it with support.
The dentist takes x-rays to ensure the root is clean.
If treatment is completed in one visit, a permanent material is used to fill the drilled hole in the tooth. For two visit appointments, the material used is temporary. A filling or crown may be used to seal the tooth and provide extra support.
Why you need root canal treatment
Infections in teeth are caused by bacteria. There’s a lot of bacteria in our mouth but it doesn’t get inside strong, healthy teeth with good daily hygiene. When a tooth is weakened, the bacteria can get inside and infect the vulnerable pulp tissue. The following can cause teeth to weaken:
- Cracked tooth
- Gum disease
- Accident impacting the tooth
- Excessive tooth wear
- Previous dental work such as fillings or crown
Signs you need a root canal
It’s best to leave it to your dentist to diagnose root canal treatment but there are some signs you can look out for to schedule an appointment with your dentist:
- Loose teeth
- Swollen jaw or face
- Ongoing toothache
- Sensitive teeth to hot and cold drinks and food
- Pain while eating
Root Canal Costs
The cost of a root canal depends on the tooth. Large molars have more roots so the cost is higher. The cost of root canal treatment is between $1,000-$2,000 per tooth for a general dentist to perform. A specialist dentist will usually charge more.
Side effects of a Root Canal
Root canal is considered routine treatment. The side effects of treatment are mild and short-lived compared to the discomfort of not having treatment. Most patients experience minor side effects of mild pain and discomfort following root canal treatment. The pain can last several days and most people only require over-the-counter pain relief medication to continue with their daily activities.
Find the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
Should I have a root canal or extraction?
The only person who can make that decision is yourself. But it’s worth saving a natural tooth if you can afford the dental treatment. Losing a tooth may not only be an aesthetic problem but can also cause a loss of jaw bone which may lead to surrounding loosened teeth.
Is root canal treatment done in the dentist’s chair?
Most root canal treatment is performed in the dentist’s chair rather than as day surgery.
What pain medication is used during root canal treatment?
Local anaesthesia is used to numb the tooth and the surrounding area being treated meaning there is little pain during the appointment. Afterwards, most patients use over-the-counter pain relief medication for up to a week. For a tailored recommendation it is best to check with a professional.
How long does a root canal last?
With good daily oral hygiene, a tooth that has had root canal treatment should last as long as your other teeth. To ensure oral health, the recommendation is to visit your dentist every 6 to 12 months for a routine check-up.
Will a dentist sometimes recommend an extraction over a root canal?
Yes, sometimes a tooth can be saved from being extracted with root canal treatment. If a tooth is too badly damaged or the infection is too deep or causes severe bone loss, the dentist may recommend removing the tooth.
Is root canal treatment only for old people?
Root canal treatment can be performed on adults of any age but are most commonly completed on patients that are over 60 years of age.
Isn’t it easier to have the tooth out and replace it with a prosthetic one?
Dentists recommend saving natural teeth wherever possible. A healthy restored tooth will usually perform better for biting and chewing actions compared to an artificial one. Moreover, a tooth implant is more complex than a root canal treatment, the procedure takes longer, and is usually higher in cost.
What if I don’t get a root canal after my dentist recommends it?
If you leave an infected tooth unattended, it’ll most likely cause pain and discomfort. The infection can spread along the gumline to other teeth and even the jaw bone. Without treatment the tooth will most likely need to be extracted.
How long does root canal treatment take?
The amount of time a root canal treatment takes varies and usually depends on the number of roots the tooth has. A tooth with one canal, such as those at the front of the mouth or the canine teeth, can take as little as 30-45 minutes to treat. The premolars are larger teeth with one or two roots which may take around an hour. The molars at the back of the mouth often have 4 canals which require from 90 minutes to 3 hours of treatment. Some patients will have their treatment broken into two visits; the first one to remove and clean the infection, and the second to permanently seal the inside of the tooth followed by a filling or crown.
Can any dentist do root canal?
Most general dentists perform root canal treatment. Some patients have complex cases that their general dentist may refer to a specialist periodontist.
Is there any after care required following a root canal?
Yes, special care is needed for the treated tooth, particularly between the first and second appointments. While waiting for a filling or crown, the tooth is temporarily protected so it is recommended to have a soft food diet. Rinsing thoroughly with saltwater and brushing twice daily will help to remove any food from getting into the treated tooth. Reducing the sugar in your diet can also cut down on the level of bacteria to further protect your tooth.
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Can I claim the cost of a root canal on Medicare?
No, the cost of dental treatment such as a root canal can’t be claimed on Medicare. But health insurance extras cover allows claiming a rebate, depending on the level of cover.
Our dental cover is designed to encourage and reward regular maintenance of your teeth. So, regardless of the extras option you choose, you can enjoy great benefits. From oral examinations, x-rays and scales and cleans, to fillings, root canals and extractions, you'll find a policy that works for you.