Each of our teeth is secured to the jawbone by one or more roots. There is one root each in the front teeth, two in the premolars and the lower molars, and three in the upper molars. In the middle of each root, lies one or more tiny tubes called root canals.
Root canals contain what is called the pulp – the blood vessels and nerves that keep the tooth alive.
This article on root canal treatment is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
This pulp can become infected through an untreated tooth cavity, a cracked filling or as a result of severe trauma to the tooth. Once infection sets in, the recommended course of action is root canal treatment – also known as endodontics. This involves removing the infected pulp and replacing it with an inert substance to prevent re-infection.
Following the treatment, the tooth will be ‘dead’, but will be preserved cosmetically and should not present any further problems. In the past, root canal treatment has left teeth darker, however modern technology means root filled teeth no longer look any different to healthy ones.
Are there any alternatives?
If the pulp is infected, there is little chance to save the tooth as a healthy living tooth. The only alternative to root canal treatment is extraction. Although this may involve a much shorter treatment time and less inconvenience, it should only be considered as a last resort, as you should aim to keep as many natural teeth as possible.
How is it performed?
Due to the delicate nature of root canals – some can be less than 0.05mm across – treatment is a lengthy process and may need to be undertaken across several visits.
The general procedure is as follows:
- About a week before your root canal treatment, you will be given a course of antibiotics to reduce any existing infection and swelling.
- You will then have an x-ray to determine the length and layout of the roots.
- On the day of your treatment, your dentist will drill through the top of your tooth to access the root canal. This is done under local anaesthetic, although if the tooth is completely dead, this may not be required.
- The pulp will then be removed and the canals widened to ensure they can be easily filled. This can take up to 3 hours, or several shorter sessions.
- The root canals are then thoroughly cleaned using an antiseptic and filled with an inert substance called gutta percha to protect them from further infection.
- A temporary filling is then put in place to protect the tooth until your dentist is sure the infection is completely gone.
- As the dead tooth is more brittle than a live one, the tooth is usually capped with a crown to strengthen it. This will usually be done within a few weeks.
What is the cost of private treatment?
Due to the length and complexity of the treatment, root canal costs can work out quite expensive. Most private dentists start their root canal charges at around £360 per tooth, with the price rising on a sliding scale depending on the number of roots, the difficulty of the treatment, and the number of sessions required. You may also have to pay separately for x-rays, antibiotics, and other peripherals. If you require a cap or crown, this will further increase the cost. Most private root canal bills are in the range £360 to £475 per tooth.
What do NHS dentists charge?
On the latest scale of charges, introduced in April 2008, if you are lucky enough to find an NHS dentist, you will only pay £44.60 for root canal work, rising to a maximum of £198 if a crown is required. What’s more, these prices include any other work you require, from the same price band or lower, within a two month period. So for £44.60, you can not only have root canal work done on multiple teeth, but you can also have any other fillings, x-rays and scale and polish done too.
Clearly such a low fixed price for such complex work does not represent good value for the dentist, and as a result, NHS dentists are becoming more and more scarce. If you are fortunate enough to have a place on an NHS list, this is well worth preserving, so make sure you do not miss appointments without notice, fall behind with payments, or do anything else that could risk you being dropped from the list.