Endodontic treatment is necessary when the pulp (the soft tissue inside the root canal) becomes inflamed or infected with bacteria. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes- deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth and / or a crack or chip in the tooth.
The tooth in question may present with the following symptoms: sensitivity or pain to hot / cold, swelling and tenderness of the overlying gingiva, however, it is not unusual for there not to be any pain from a tooth affected by chronic inflammation or necrosis of the pulp.
The purpose of root canal treatment is to return the tooth to health and allowing it to be fully functional. The only viable alternative to the root canal treatment is extraction of the tooth in question, and the missing tooth may then need to be replaced by means of an implant, a bridge or a denture.
If left untreated, even currently symptom-free inflamed teeth will eventually give rise to symptoms such as pain and swelling, and the longer an unhealthy tooth is left untreated the more difficult, protracted the treatment becomes.
The treatment is carried out under local anaesthetics and is pain free. To improve patient comfort and to prevent contamination with saliva the tooth is isolated with a rubber sheet, and the root canals are adequately disinfected and cleaned. When the tooth is ready, i.e. is symptom free, the canals are permanently filled with gutta-percha (rubber like biocompatible root filling) to prevent re-infection of the disinfected root canals.