What is a Root Canal

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal involves taking out the nerve of a tooth, cleaning and shaping the canal space and then filling it up to prevent bacteria from getting back into the root system.

The purpose of this is to allow a tooth, without a living nerve, to remain in the mouth without pain for chewing and for cosmetic reasons.

When a nerve dies in a tooth it is often referred to as ‘non-vital’. Note: though it may be painless for a time- it is still infected and the balance of bacteria could be upset and an abscess (collection of pus) could form at any time.

What is the Success Rate of Root Canal Procedures?

The success of a root canal treatment at 10 years is reported to be:

  • 90-95% for an initial root canal (i.e. the first time it has been attempted) if there is no area visible around the end of the root on the X-ray.
  • 80-85% for an initial root canal if thereis an area associated with the tip of the root on the X-ray.
  • 65% for a re-root treatment (i.e. following an unsuccessful first attempt) or if pus is evident at the start of treatment.

General dentists perform root canals everyday but specialists in this field of dentistry exist (see below). They have additional training and experience, and their practices are set up specifically to treat these conditions with speciliased high-tech equipment (high magnification microscopes and ultrasonics). As a result the success rate of their root canal treatment would be higher.

What Influences the Success of my Root Canal Treatment?

The success of a root canal comes down largely to one main point- has the whole root system been sufficiently disinfected, appropriately filled and properly sealed? If the answer is ‘yes’, the root canal is very likely to be successful.

Any factor that influences achieving this outcome, will therefore effect the success of the root canal treatment:

  • The dentist– Their experience, technique and the materials and equipment used.
  • The tooth- There are many issues related to the tooth that influence the prognosis- here are some of the main ones:

How infected the canal(s) are initially. The more infected the root system, the poorer the prognosis as the percentages above suggest.

How much tooth remains may not affect the success of the root canal procedure directly but it will affect how good the crown is on top and therefore how long you have a useful tooth in your mouth.

How complex the root canal system is, how curved, how many and how accessible the canals are- these factors will all influence the difficulty of the treatment and the outcome.

Is it the first time it has been attempted or is it a re-root canal treatment?

Is it a natural tooth you are going into, or through a crown, in which case orientating yourself can be more difficult.

Click here to see how to tell if a root canal has been successful.

Is there a Specialist who deals with this Type of Treatment?

There are dentists who specialize in providing root canals and associated procedures- they are called ‘endodontists’. The course is generally a 3-year full time postgraduate study and when they graduate, they are placed on the specialist register as an endodontist. Endodontic treatment is another way of saying root canal treatment.

Specialists provide the highest possible quality root canal treatment, with additional experience, knowledge and high-end equipment. Each dentist will normally have a specialist who they refer to. Some dentists prefer all root canals to be completed by specialists, others will do the majority themselves and only refer more difficult cases and complications.