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What is a root canal?

Most people will have heard of the term ‘root canal’ at some point, it’s often bandied about by dentists and people suffering from toothache. What exactly is a root canal? Why is it is so important for teeth treatment? Find out in this article.

The tooth structure

Understanding the tooth structure is the key to knowing what a root canal is. Each tooth has a hollow area at its centre. This area contains soft tissues including the tooth nerve, blood vessels, connective tissue and the pulp chamber. The pulp chamber is connected to the tip of the tooth root of the tooth by narrow canal(s) and so, these canals are known as root canals. The tooth pulp helps to nourish and hydrate the tooth structure, making it more resilient. Human teeth will have between one to four canals. Accessory canals may branch out from the main canal, and the number of canals and the anatomy is varied among teeth. Root canal is also the informal term for the actual operation on root canals. In dental terms, it is officially known as endodontic surgery and generally involves cleaning out the pulp, disinfecting the space and performing a root canal filling.

Symptoms and causes

Signs that root canal treatment is needed include:
Severe toothache when chewing, swallowing or applying pressure.
Constant sensitivity/plain to hot or cold temperatures.
Discolouration of the tooth.
Swelling and tenderness in nearby gums. Most of these symptoms can be present in all types of dental problems, but root canal therapy will be required if: Tooth decay has penetrated through the enamel and dentine to the pulp.
An infected tooth has resulted from decay.
A tooth has been chipped or broken, leaving the nerve exposed.

That word pain

Does a root canal hurt? This is what most people will want to know, and sadly, there is no way of sugar coating the answer. If you require root canal surgery, then it is most likely because you’re in extreme pain. In terms of the actual operation, it really depends on the individual. A local anaesthetic will be given and dentists are finding new ways of performing the operation as efficiently and pain-free as possible.

Same old principles

Avoiding root canal problems is certainly advisable, and doing so, comes down to the same old basic principles of regular brushing and avoiding sugary drinks and sweets. Temporary solutions to root canal problems include over-the-counter painkillers, prescription pain killers, numbing gel and sticking to a soft food or even liquid diet. However, in reality, the only real solution is to visit an endodontist immediately. People who are yet to hear the words 'root' and 'canal' in the same sentence can count themselves as lucky.

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