What is Endodontics or “Root Canal Therapy”, and why might I need it?

“Endodontics” or “root canal therapy” is a dental procedure that literally means “treatment inside the tooth.”  The inside structure, or “pulp”, of a tooth is a vulnerable tissue that can easily become inflamed and infected.  This most commonly occurs due to caries (decay), but may have occurred from a number of other possible causes, such as a crack, periodontal (deep gum) disease, and from trauma (being knocked).  If the inflammation and infection in the pulp is left untreated, it can lead to pain, abscess in the jawbone, and swelling.

Saving the natural tooth is usually far more beneficial than extraction or an artificial replacement, as it is most in line with the natural healthy state of your tooth and mouth. It is often the more cost effective solution in the long term also.

How successful is root canal therapy?

Root canal therapy is one of the most successful dental treatments practised today, especially with more recent advancements in techniques, materials and equipment. The prognosis (chance of success) does still vary with for each procedure, tooth and patient.  This is why your initial consultation is very important, and we encourage you to ask questions to ensure you understand your recommended treatment options. 

Why am I being referred to an Endodontist?

Although a general dentist is qualified to perform root canal therapy, dentists often refer their patients to an Endodontist to give their patients the best care possible, in the same way a GP may refer a patient to a cardiologist or other specialist.

An Endodontist is a dental specialist in the field of endodontics, requiring an additional three full years of university post-graduate study in addition to a general dental degree.

An Endodontist performs routine as well as difficult root canal therapy procedures, including retreatment of previous root canals that did not heal completely, endodontic microsurgery, management of dental trauma, bleaching of discoloured previously root canal filled teeth, and the diagnosis and management of some oral and facial pain.

There have also been significant advancements in endodontic diagnosis and treatment procedures. Adelaide Endodontic Specialists incorporates these in your management, ensuring you receive only the highest quality dental care.  We use endodontic microscopes, endodontic rotary equipment, ultrasonics, electronic apex locators, digital radiography and the latest endodontic microsurgical techniques to ensure the most optimal outcome for you. 

Our Endodontists work in close co-operation with your general dentist and other specialists to achieve the best possible outcome for you.

What are the alternative treatments to root canal therapy?

The alternative treatment is extraction of your tooth.

This may seem the simpler and cheaper option in the short term, but usually your extracted tooth will require a replacement if you wish to prevent long term complications arising with your remaining teeth and mouth.

Where it’s possible to successfully save your tooth with root canal therapy, this is regarded as the preferred first option.  It is most in line with the natural healthy state of your tooth and mouth, and is often the more cost effective solution in the long term also.

Rest assured that if root canal therapy is not the best option in your case and an alternative option is superior, we will discuss this with you and refer you back to your general dentist.  We are committed to getting the optimal outcome for you and your teeth.     

Is root canal therapy painful?

Many patients who are referred to us for root canal therapy initially present in pain or discomfort. Root canal therapy alleviates this pain.  Advancements in dental techniques, as well as our focused specialist management sees most patients report that they are comfortable and relaxed during their root canal therapy. 

Rest assured that your comfort is our number one priority, and is expertly attended to at all stages of treatment, from consultation through to follow up. 

Can I expect pain after therapy? Can I return to work/school on the day of therapy?

You can usually return to work or school immediately following root canal therapy appointments. 

The majority of patients seen by our Endodontists experience minimal or no discomfort following root canal therapy. If any discomfort occurs it is generally mild, short lasting and can be well controlled with standard medications. Your Endodontist will discuss this with you and if required tailor a management strategy for you. 

What if I am a particularly anxious patient?

We understand that needing root canal therapy can be a scary thought.  You may have previously had a bad dental experience or present to us in pain.  Our Endodontists are highly experienced and trained to treat anxious patients who are in pain.  Rest assured that your comfort is our number one priority, and is expertly attended to at all stages of treatment, from consultation through to follow up. 

All of our Endodontists at Adelaide Endodontic Specialists also offer treatment under “twilight” or “conscious” sedation.  This is administered by a qualified Anaesthetist in our rooms at Adelaide Endodontic Specialists.  Where appropriate, treatment can be completed in a single visit, and you can return home after a short monitored recovery period by our registered nurse.  It does not involve a trip to hospital.  

Why do I need to continue with endodontic treatment if my tooth no longer hurts?

Root canal therapy is needed when the nerve or “pulp” tissue has become inflamed and infected.  Once this pulp tissue dies or is removed in the first root canal appointment, any toothache that may have been present can “disappear” and thus it seems that dental treatment is no longer required.  Unfortunately however, the infection remains or has not been completely treated, and thus the tooth is in an unstable state that could “flare up” at any given time.  This often gives rise to further pain, abscess in the jawbone, and swelling.  Completed root canal therapy disinfects and fills the inside canals of the tooth and allows the surrounding tissues to heal. 

Completed root canal therapy is the only way to remove the infection from the canals inside your tooth. 

Why can’t I just take antibiotics instead of having endodontic treatment?

When the vulnerable inside structure or “pulp” of a tooth has become inflamed and infected, it cannot ever heal itself and begins on a pathway to dying. This dead tissue does not have a blood supply, so the antibiotics that are carried in your bloodstream cannot reach the “pulp” tissues where they are needed to kill the cause of the infection.  The only way to kill the bacteria inside the pulp space and disinfect the tooth for the long term is via root canal therapy. 

Antibiotics are generally only used as an adjunct to root canal therapy for root canal infections that also have severe associated facial swellings, or accompanying fever or malaise (feeling unwell). 

Why do I need to see my general dentist during or after root canal therapy?

Your general dentist remains a very important part of your root canal therapy.  You will need to return to them either during or after root canal therapy to have the top of your tooth restored to optimise its strength.  As always, is also important you see you dentist for regular checkups and maintenance. 

Our Endodontists work in close co-operation with your general dentist to achieve the best possible outcome for you.

I have a medical condition. Is it safe for me to have root canal therapy?

There are no medical conditions that would usually preclude root canal therapy being undertaken.  With your approval, your Endodontist may need to contact your doctor(s) for clarification of your health status before proceeding with treatment.

If you have a health concern, please specify it on the medical information form, together with any medications and dosages. Please bring a list with you to your consultation appointment, and inform your Endodontist if you have had any changes to your medical circumstances between your appointments. 

What fees should I expect?

At Adelaide Endodontic Specialists, we believe in being upfront about how much your root canal therapy will cost.  After your tooth has been assessed at your consultation appointment, we will provide and discuss with you an itemised management plan, including expected number of appointments and costs.  We can provide you with the relevant item numbers if you would like to find out your rebate from your health fund.

We are happy to provide our patients with the HICAPS facility for on-site claiming of any health fund rebate.  Gap payments are accepted on the day of consultation, therapy or review via credit card (VISA, MasterCard and American Express), EFTPOS or via cash or cheque.

We are also happy to treat Veteran’s Affairs gold card holders, General Dental Scheme patients and Child Dental Benefits Scheme patients. Please let our reception staff know if either of these schemes applies to you when making your appointments. 

Other questions not answered here?

Please do not hesitate to contact Adelaide Endodontic Specialists on 8228 3000.  Our reception staff will be able to assist you, or they will refer your query onto your treating Endodontist.