Root canal

About root canal

Your dentist may suggest root canal treatment if there is inflammation or infection inside one of your teeth.

They will clean and fill inside the tooth to prevent further damage or infection. Root canal treatment can save your tooth from having to be taken out.

An illustration showing the area treated when you have root canal therapy

What is a root canal?

Your teeth have ‘roots’ that anchor them into your jawbone. Inside each of your teeth there is a mixture of blood vessels and nerves called pulp. Pulp sits inside a space called the pulp chamber and this extends down into the roots of the tooth. The pulp chamber within the root is called the root canal.

Why is root canal treatment needed?

If your tooth is damaged, bacteria can get inside it. This causes irritation, pain and swelling. If the pulp inside the tooth becomes infected, this can spread into the pulp inside the root canal.

The aim of root canal treatment is to prevent your tooth from being taken out by removing the damaged pulp and treating the infection.

You may need root canal treatment for a number of reasons, including:

If the infection isn’t treated, it can spread further and cause an abscess, which is a collection of pus. This can be painful, tender and can cause swelling around your tooth and jaw.

Sometimes your tooth may look darker in colour than your other teeth, which means that the nerve inside your tooth is dead or dying.

If you're experiencing toothache or would like to find out more information about root canal treatment, contact your dentist. We have over 400 dental practices around the UK who will be happy to help you.

Interested in root canal treatment?

Get in touch with your nearest Bupa practice. They can help you book a consultation and answer any queries.

Does root canal treatment hurt?

Root canal treatment isn’t painful. A local anaesthetic is usually used during the treatment, and it should feel no different from having a filling performed.

If you feel particularly nervous about having root canal treatment, let your dentist know so they can reassure you. Many of our practices also offer dental sedation to help put you at ease during your treatment.

How should I prepare for root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is usually carried out by a dentist. But if your tooth is difficult to treat, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist. This is a dentist who specialises in root canal treatment.

Your dentist will examine you and ask about your symptoms, including any pain you’re experiencing. They may also ask you about your medical history and any previous treatment you’ve had on your teeth.

As well as this, your dentist will take an X-ray of your tooth. This can help to show which tooth is causing pain and needs treatment, and how far any infection has spread. The X-ray is necessary for your dentist to make sure that your tooth isn’t too badly damaged for root canal treatment.

Although some root canal treatments can be completed within one appointment, most are done over two or more sessions with your dentist.

How much does root canal treatment cost?

Root canal treatment is available privately and on the NHS. The cost of treatment will vary depending on your individual needs. Your dentist will be able to give you a breakdown of costs once they’ve assessed exactly what treatment you need.

Find your local Bupa Dental Care practice

What are the alternatives to root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is used to save teeth, allowing you to keep a healthy, natural smile. The alternative to root canal is to remove the tooth completely, as the infection won’t heal on its own.

Your dentist will always try and save your natural tooth where they can, but they may suggest you have the tooth removed if it’s badly damaged or if you have severe gum disease, which prevents your tooth from healing after treatment.

What happens during root canal treatment?

Step 1

Once the area is numb, your dentist will place a thin rubber sheet inside your mouth. This is called a dental dam and covers everything except the tooth being worked on. It helps to keep the area around the tooth clean and stop the spread of any infection.

Step 2

Using a drill, your dentist will make a hole in the top of your tooth and remove the pulp. They will clean out the empty hole using small instruments and a liquid to disinfect the inside of the tooth and make sure all the infected material is flushed out. The instruments help to make the canals a more regular shape to enable the tooth to be filled and cleaned more precisely.

Step 3

Once the tooth is clean, your dentist will fill and seal it. Unless the dentist is sure that all infection has been removed, they will put in a temporary filling. You’ll then have a second appointment to have the tooth permanently filled. If your tooth is badly worn or is at risk of further damage, your dentist may suggest having a crown fitted, which is an artificial cap that fits over your tooth.

How long does it take to recover from root canal treatment?

After a local anaesthetic, it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your jaw and face. Take special care not to bump or knock the area. You can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to help with any discomfort after the anaesthetic wears off and for the next couple of days. You’ll be able to go back to work after the procedure.

You may have some slight tenderness around the area, but usually this lasts for only a short time. The area around your tooth may also be swollen and bruised. This should get better within two weeks of your treatment.

When you next need to see your dentist will depend on the reasons for your treatment and how the procedure went. Your dentist may ask you to have further X-rays and check-ups to make sure that the tooth is healing well.

After your treatment, it's important to take care of your repaired tooth. Find your local Bupa Dental Care practice

What will my tooth look like afterwards?

Traditionally, root canal treatment is associated with causing teeth to become darker. However, modern techniques allow your dentist to leave your tooth looking almost exactly as it did before the treatment. If you have any questions about the appearance of your teeth, speak to your dentist who can reassure you.

Are there any complications?

Most root canal treatment is successful, but as with any procedure, there can be occasional complications. These include:

  • Damage to the root canal or the tissue surrounding the tooth
  • Infection
  • Damage to the nerves around the tooth

Contact your local practice

If you think you’re experiencing any pain, or haven’t had a check-up in a while, find your local Bupa Dental Care dentist below and get in touch to book an appointment.

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Dental Care Limited. Registered in England and Wales No: 00478127. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care, Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

Oasis Dental Care Limited has a number of trading names including Bupa Dental Care. For a list of all our different trading names please follow this link.

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