If a tooth suddenly becomes painful or extra sensitive to temperature, you might have a pulp infection. This happens when bacteria reach the soft tissues in the centre of teeth, where the nerves are located.
If you have a pulp infection, your dentist will normally recommend a root canal treatment to remove the infected tissue and restore your tooth. The only alternative is to extract the tooth, which may be necessary if it's too damaged to save.
When is a root canal recommended?
If you have a severe toothache or other possible signs of a tooth infection, your dentist will examine your mouth and take an x-ray to determine the cause and extent of the damage. If the pulp is damaged or infected, your dentist will recommend root canal therapy and explain what the procedure involves.
Root canal therapy is recommended over extractions because it allows you to keep your natural tooth. While the procedure may be more time-consuming than an extraction, a missing tooth can involve worse complications in the long term, and replacing an extracted tooth can cost more.
What does root canal therapy involve?
The root canal procedure has several stages and may require several appointments, depending on the size of the tooth and severity of the infection. Dentists use local anaesthetic or other sedation to make sure you won't feel pain during the treatment.
First, your dentist will use a drill to open the tooth and remove the infected tissue. They will then clean and disinfect the root canals inside your tooth and shape them ready to be filled with a synthetic material. The tooth is then sealed and restored to its original shape and appearance using a large filling or custom crown.
When is an extraction recommended?
While dentists will always try to save a tooth if possible, a tooth that's more severely damaged may be beyond repair. In these cases, tooth extraction will be the only option to prevent infections from spreading and maintain your oral health.
You may also choose to have a problematic tooth removed if you want to avoid a root canal procedure, but this will mean living with a gap that could affect your appearance and cause the surrounding teeth to go crooked, or having the tooth replaced with a prosthetic.
What does tooth extraction involve?
The tooth extraction procedure can vary depending on how difficult the tooth is to remove. Most teeth can be extracted by loosening them in the socket and pulling them out, but more complex extractions may involve making an incision in the gum to access the tooth roots.
Your dentist will use local anaesthesia or other sedation to numb pain and help you to feel more relaxed during the procedure. Once your tooth is extracted, your dentist will discuss teeth replacement options such as a dental implant, dental bridge or partial dentures to restore your smile and your bite.