Wondering what to expect from root canal treatment? A dentist helps explain the procedure, the cost and the recovery.
Although the thought of having root canal treatment on a tooth can sound scary, the truth is it’s a safe procedure and more common than you might think.
Dentist Alison Hughes fills us in on the details.
In this article
What is root canal treatment?
“Root canal treatment is a common dental procedure, carried out to prevent a badly damaged or infected tooth from being extracted,” says Hughes.
Simply put, root canal treatment removes infected ‘pulp’ from inside your tooth and replaces it with a filling. This stops the spread of infection and relieves pain.
What causes infections in teeth?
Infection of the pulp happens when bacteria sneaks into the pulp via untreated cavities or cracks in a tooth.1
The most common causes of damage to the pulp can include:2
- Tooth decay
- A cracked tooth
- A fall, accident or sporting injury
- Gum disease
- Grinding and clenching teeth
- Wear and tear
- Failure to brush and floss regularly
Signs that you may have an infection in a tooth include:2
- Prolonged sensitivity to hot and cold foods
- Loose tooth
- Discolouration of the tooth
- Severe toothache when biting or chewing
- Swelling and redness around your tooth and the surrounding gums
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
- Pus around the infected tooth
How much does root canal treatment cost in Australia?
The cost varies depending on how complex the procedure is, which tooth is affected, and how many pulp canals a tooth has.
Molars at the back of the mouth have more roots and are generally more complex than front teeth and so the cost is usually more.4
“With a General Dentist, root canal treatment could cost between $950 to $2000.”
“Getting treatment from a root canal specialist would likely be a higher cost,” says Hughes, “and maybe a necessity in some situations.”
How can I get help with the cost of root canal treatment?
Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of most dental services the way it does with other health services.
However, private health insurance can help pay for root canal treatment if you get extras cover that includes cover for root canals.
Learn more about dental cover
How does root canal treatment work?
The dentist first takes an x-ray of the tooth. This helps a dentist find the infection, understand the extent of the infection and inspect the tooth.3
The tooth is numbed with local anaesthetic before the dentist creates an access hole in the tooth to clean out the bacteria and infected pulp. A series of specialised files are used to clean and shape the fine canals in the centre of the tooth root(s).
It could take two or more appointments to clean, shape and disinfect the tooth, so in between appointments, the tooth will be sealed with a temporary filling and you will be able to gently chew with the tooth.3
Once the canal is cleaned and shaped it will be filled with an inert filling called gutta percha, and a filling will be placed into the access hole.
Finally, a ceramic dental crown is often recommended. This covers the tooth more fully and can help restore full strength and chewing ability.
Does getting a root canal hurt?
“Contrary to popular belief, root canal procedures generally don’t hurt,” says Hughes. “It is the infection within the tooth that causes pain.”
The application of anaesthetic numbs the tooth and surrounding area, so no pain is felt.1
It’s normal to feel a bit tender and sensitive for a few days after root canal treatment as your tooth heals. Your dentist may suggest over the counter pain relief to ease any discomfort.4
Your tooth might feel a bit different from your other teeth for some time. But if you have worsening pain for more than a few days, you should call your dentist.
How long does root canal treatment take?
“Root canal treatment is generally carried out over one or two appointments with each appointment lasting 45-90 minutes,” Hughes says.
If the infection is severe or the procedure more complex it can take longer.4
How long does root canal treatment last?
The success rates for root canal treatment are relatively high – largely due to technological advances in this field.5
With good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, a restored tooth can last a lifetime.5
We’ll leave you with a few final words of advice from the dentist.
“While there are several factors that influence the success of root canal therapy, once completed, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene, and take care of the final restoration,” Hughes says.
“The placement of a crown to strengthen the root filled tooth will be important for a successful outcome where a large amount of natural tooth structure has been lost.”
“How long it lasts will be influenced by how well the oral hygiene is maintained and if the tooth has been strengthened with a dental crown to cope with biting and chewing forces.”
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.