The only solution to save your badly infected tooth from extraction!
Many have probably heard the term “root canal treatment” before, perhaps after seeing the dentist for a toothache, maybe from friends and family who just had it done, or even in medical documentaries.
But what exactly is a root canal treatment and why do you need it?
When is root canal treatment needed?
Root canal treatment is recommended when the pulp is inflamed or badly infected. Commonly experienced as a “toothache”, some say worse than the pain of childbirth.
What is pulp? The pulp is the innermost layer of the tooth that contains nerves and blood supply that gives life to each tooth. It helps you to know when things are “too cold”, “too hot” or “ouch”! As bacteria from tooth decay or a cracked tooth is allowed to travel inwards towards the pulp, eventually the pulp gets inflamed or infected, causing a toothache. When you have a toothache that does not go away and the best painkillers do not work, inflammation of the pulp is usually irreversible, this is when a root canal treatment is in order to save the tooth.
Alternatives to a root canal treatment would be pulling out the tooth and replacing it with an artificial dental implant ($$$$), a bridge($$$) or a denture($$).
How is a root canal treatment performed and what can you expect during the procedure?
The entire procedure usually involves 2-3 visits, each ranging from 1-2 hours depending on which tooth and how easy or complex the root canal formation is.
FIRST VISIT: Clean, disinfect and dress
During the first visit, the decayed parts of your tooth will be thoroughly cleaned out and the pulp will be accessed. The canals will then be cleaned, shaped and disinfected. Antibacterial dressing is also usually placed in the canals to help remove any infection and pain in between visits. A temporary filling will then be placed to prevent recontamination of the pulp.
What to expect after the first visit
After your first visit, it is normal to experience some soreness and tenderness around that tooth which usually subsides after a few days.
Tip: Do take note not to bite too hard on the tooth as a hollow root canal space makes it slightly weaker and more prone to fracture. [1,2]
SECOND VISIT: Disinfect, fill and seal
At the second visit, the canals will be filled with a non toxic, inert material to prevent bacteria from reinfecting the tooth. Similarly, the tooth may feel tender for a few days after treatment. Over-the-counter pain relief medication can be taken as required.
Depending on the amount of natural tooth structure remaining, a crown may be required to restore the root canal treated tooth. A crown acts like a helmet, to protect the root canal treated tooth from cracking under heavy biting forces.  If there is sufficient tooth structure, the tooth may be restored with regular filling material.
Can root canals only be done by a specialist?
Endodontists are dental specialists in the area of root canal treatment. Root canal treatment can be performed by both endodontists and general dentists. Depending on the complexity of your root canal, referral to an endodontist may be recommended on a case by case basis.
Is root canal treatment safe?
A google search on this topic will bring up an onslaught of information and many would probably have heard claims of root canal treatment causing other illnesses. However, there is no scientific evidence of this and research has in fact debunked all of such claims. Research has found that up to 96% of root canal treated teeth have a 10 year survival rate, proving it to be a safe treatment that provides tooth longevity. 
How much does root canal treatment cost?
Price of root canal treatment ranges from $400 - 1200 with a general dentist and can be higher for more complex work with an endodontist (specialist). The cost of root canal treatment depends on how many roots the tooth has and the number of canals there are within each root. The more roots, the more canals, which equates to more time needed to treat and disinfect all the canals. The additional costs include medication, filling and crowns which are approximately $400 - 1300 depending again on material selection and chosen dentist.
Some of you may think this is quite a large investment just to save a tooth. However, if we think long term on the basis that you only have 1 set of adult teeth your whole life, perhaps this opportunity cost of $2000 could by you an iPhone which you would replace in 1 - 2 years, versus a tooth which could serve you for an average of 10 years or more with successful treatment.  Save your teeth, think long term investment to smile, to eat and to enjoy your everyday life!
Disclaimer: This is an opinion article based on clinical experience, with literature from various dental journals.