an x-ray of a patients teeth for a root canal What is root canal treatment and why is it carried out?

Root canal treatment is carried out when the pulp (nerves and blood vessels within the tooth) has become infected by bacteria (germs). These germs cause pus to form at the tip of the root, in the jawbone, this is called an abscess. Symptoms one might expect when this occurs are sensitivity to hot drinks/food, unable to bite on the tooth, a dull ache or severe throbbing pain and sometimes one may have a facial swelling. There are times when no pain is experienced; this is because the abscess is dormant.

The pulp becomes infected for the following reasons:

  • the tooth is decayed
  • the tooth has a large, deep filling or a crown
  • there is a crack in the tooth
  • the tooth has been subjected to trauma


An infected tooth is treated by root canal treatment (to save the tooth) alternatively the tooth can be extracted (removed). Antibiotics do not ‘cure’ the infection.

There are cases when the tooth has already had a root canal treatment and has become infected again. The treatment options are to have the root canal treatment repeated or to extract the tooth.