Root Canal Infection Symptoms, Treatment, Complications And Prevention

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When teeth become badly decayed there is more needed than simple removal. The area around the tooth, the gums and the bone, can also be affected, and these areas need to be cleaned thoroughly to prevent further problems. The nerves need to be removed and the area protected against future infection. The tooth can often be saved with cleaning, and go on to be fully operative. This is known as root canal surgery, and it is a vital and common procedure, and one that is routine for a dentist. In this article we will take a look at root canal infection symptoms, in order that you can recognise the problem early on, and we will also describe what a root canal is, the procedure the dentist will carry out, and how best to prevent the problem occurring. Let’s begin by talking about the symptoms of root canal infection.

Symptoms

It is quite possible that a patient may need a root canal operation, but that no symptoms will be present. However, in most cases there are some notable symptoms that are commonplace. These include the following:

  • Painful toothache and pain when the tooth is used
  • Darkening of the tooth
  • Constant pain after heat or coldness
  • Swelling or abnormal pimples in the gums around the area

Any of the above should be followed by a visit to the dentist, as the problem can only become worse.

What Is A Root Canal?

The term ‘root canal’ refers to the open cavity that is at the centre of every tooth. Within the root canal lie the pulp – soft material that can become infected – and the nerves. Many teeth – the molars specifically – have more than one root canal, sometimes as many as four. The pulp and nerves will both be removed during the procedure, in the hope that the tooth can function perfectly from then on. It is carried out under anaesthetic. The next section explains in more detail what happens during a root canal procedure.

What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?

The initial step is to X-ray the tooth to determine the extent of damage. You will be given a local anaesthetic in order to minimise the pain, although if the nerve is already dead there will be no sensation of pain anyhow.

During the procedure the dental surgeon will clean the area around the infected tooth. A drill will then be used to get inside the root canals, and the pulp and the nerves will be removed. The root canals inside the tooth will thoroughly cleaned, this is done by using a selection of tiny files, and then sealed. Sometimes a dentist will wait for a few days before sealing, while in other cases it will be sealed straight away.  It is essential that the infected nerves and pulp are removed in order to prevent further infections, which can cause painful abscesses if left untreated. You made need a crown on the tooth to protect it, but many people do not. The tooth is then ready to settle down and work again.

How Painful Is a Root Canal Procedure?

There are many scare stories about the level of pain experienced during a root canal procedure; in fact, with the help of the anaesthetic, the procedure is unlikely to be any more painful than having a filling. However, the infection in the root canal can cause serious pain, experienced as what we know as toothache. Any infection in the mouth can cause pain, and should be taken seriously. Following the procedure there may be a period during which soreness is experienced, but the dentist will prescribe medication to keep this to a minimum.

Treatment

The treatment we have mentioned above is the full extent of root canal treatment. The patient will be expected to take care when eating and drinking while the tooth recovers and while any restoration or cap is left to settle, and to follow a full and sensible hygiene regime from then on.

Complications Of a Root Canal Procedure

As with all such procedure, the complications of a root canal procedure can be varied; however, thanks to the dedication and expertise of the dentist you are likely to have a trouble-free recovery. In some cases further infection may arise, and the causes of this can be any of the following:

  • Unseen cracks in the root
  • Multiple root canals in one tooth
  • Breakdown of  the sealing material
  • An unsuccessful root canal procedure

Prevention

There are many causes of root canal infections, and they can stem from repeated or prolonged dental procedures. This may be unavoidable, but for many other possible causes you may be able to help minimise the risk of the need for root canal work. Regular brushing and flossing as part of your day to day hygiene routine is essential, and if you are taking part in sports, wear a mouth guard to protect your teeth. Also, make sure you keep up with regular visits to the dentist.

Alternatives To a Root Canal Procedure

The point behind a root canal operation is that it helps you to keep your own teeth. This is the very best option for living a normal life. Root canal work is the preferred option, but there are others – such as:

  • Extraction
  • Replacement with a Bridge – an implement that bridges the gap between the teeth
  • Fitting an implant or partial dentures

It should be noted that these are more expensive and potentially more troublesome than the root canal procedure.

What Happens When a Root Canal Molar Splits?

This is caused by the weakening of a tooth in the root canal procedure. The molar has two or more sets of roots, and it is likely they have become fractured. The tooth may split vertically as a result. If this happens you should visit your dentist immediately. In many cases one of the roots can be saved, and the tooth will then be capped and continue to be used. In other cases the tooth will have to be extracted. A root canal molar splitting will generally occur if the tooth has not been capped during the procedure, hence your dentist will most likely recommend capping if it is a molar that is the problem.

How Much Does a Root Canal Procedure Cost?

The cost of root canal work differs depending upon your location. In the USA we have seen prices of between $350 and $600 for an incisor, equivalent to between £220 and £380 in the UK. For a molar, the price could be between $500 to $800 in the USA, equivalent to between £320 and £500 in the UK. These are prices for private treatment and can vary due to location. It is worthwhile that patients in the UK check out the possibility of cheaper root canal procedures on the NHS, but this may also depend on the region you live in.

We hope that this article has helped you gain a better understanding of what root canal procedures are all about, how they are treated and how you can minimise the risks, as well as giving you an idea of what to expect if you are in need of treatment.

Written By Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson studied at the highly regarded Barts and The London Dental Hospital in London, UK, and gained a clear distinction in all of his studies. Dr Jackson then went on to further his education with a research position at the Newcastle Dental Hospital, one of the leading institutions in the UK.

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