What is a Root Filling?

A root filling is a procedure used in dentistry to remove infection from a tooth, and to avoid having to extract it; the process involves drilling into the hard outer shell of the tooth and then scraping out the inner pulp, to prevent harmful bacteria from affecting the rest of the mouth. Although the roots and nerves are buried underneath the mineral layers that make up the structure of the teeth, cavities and dental trauma can lead to damage that leaves it exposed to infection – which can lead to more serious problems if it is not dealt with promptly. It is important that the deterioration is treated by either filling the decayed area or by removing the inner workings via a root canal, otherwise the infection could spread.

What happens during a root filling treatment?

The first step is to identify which tooth needs to be treated, this is done using a series of x-rays – because the pulpitis (infected pulp) is at the centre of the structure and therefore cannot be seen from the outside. Once it has been established that a root filling is necessary, the dentist has to go to work quickly, in order to remove the diseased tissue before the infection can spread. They will begin the treatment by administering anaesthetic – usually local, so that the patient remains conscious throughout.

When you are sufficiently anaesthetised, the process can begin; the dentist will drill directly into the crown of the affected tooth, removing a small section to gain access to the pulp chamber. Using specialist tools, they can then scrape out the infected pulp and dispose of it. It is vital that all fragments of the tissue are removed, otherwise the problem will flare up again and the operation will have failed. After the root canal has been thoroughly excavated, the area needs to be cleaned and disinfected, to kill any remaining bacteria that might be lurking in there. The filling procedure has to be performed after the cavity has been cleaned and dried, to avoid problems with moisture in the bonding material, which would also seriously hinder progress.

At this point, the hole may have to be reshaped or widened, so that the filling can fit comfortably, without interfering with the bite. The surgeon will normally use either amalgam or composite bonding to fill the empty canal, depending on the position and size of the filling – although, composite material is usually the preferred option for the patient, as it matches the shade of the natural enamel and won’t appear so obvious when the mouth is opened.

Overall, the root filling process can be quite time-consuming and arduous for both patient and dentist, which is why most surgeons will place a temporary filling to let the surgical site heal a little, and to make sure the canal is a suitable size. If you are fitted with a temporary device like this, you will have to return for further treatment, but your tooth should be in much better shape after a week or two to recover from the procedure. In order to protect the damaged area, your dentist may also place a porcelain crown over the top of it; this helps the dead tooth remain functional and should last for many years.

You could be forgiven for wondering why a rotten or infected tooth shouldn’t just be removed, but most dentists would try to avoid this wherever possible, as it can have further reaching consequences with regards to the positioning of the rest of the teeth. Just because the tooth has no sensitivity, doesn’t mean it can’t function normally, and it is rarely a favourable option to extract a tooth if it can be saved with a root filling.

How can I avoid a root filling?

In most cases, teeth that need to be filled down to the root have been left to decay over a lengthy period of time, either due to a lack of oral hygiene, or because the patient is simply oblivious to the problem. It’s easy to quickly dismiss the need to brush and floss regularly, and it might not seem like an immediate health problem, but rotten teeth are painful and sometimes complicated to deal with – don’t underestimate the benefits of a decent cleaning routine. If you don’t take adequate care of your teeth, you will develop areas of decay called cavities that can reach right through to the centre of the mineral layers and expose the pulp to bacterial infection. Small cavities will eventually get larger and more painful, and you won’t be able to avoid a root filling if you don’t get treatment right away. The problem with this scenario is that a lot of people don’t notice – or care about – small holes in their teeth, which means the decay is overlooked for too long before the dentist has a change to fix it – this is why it’s so important to maintain regular contact with your clinic; dealing with cavities in a timely fashion could mean there’s no need for a root canal.

Unfortunately, just taking care of your teeth properly is not a guarantee that you will never need dental surgery; even the most health-conscious individuals can still have accidents and injuries that lead to infection. A strong blow to the face is all it takes to fracture the layers of the teeth and allow bacteria to enter the pulp chamber, so it’s a good idea to have your mouth checked by a dental professional at the first opportunity following an accident, even if you don’t notice any immediate pain. Smaller impacts can also prove problematic, because they can leave cracks and crevices in the surface of the teeth, which provide the perfect hideaway for bacteria and plaque acid; visiting the dentist to have superficial damage repaired could negate the need for a root filling in the future.

If you are having trouble with your teeth and you think a root canal could be the answer, call the Pearl Dental Clinic and organise an appointment right away; the sooner the infection is dealt with, the better the long-term results will be.

How to find us?


5 Vale Parade, Kingston Vale

Kingston Hill, London SW15 3PS


Pearl Dental Clinic

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