Guide to Understanding Root Canals

Root Canal Treatment. An Endodontist Preparing Patient for Root Canal Treatment.

Discover the facts that you might not know about root canal including what a root canal actually is and how to know if you need to get a root canal. 

Table of Contents

A Root Canal is a procedure where your pulp is removed, and then the “canal” (hence the name root canal) is filled and restored. This is a procedure that helps relieve tooth pain caused by an inflamed pulp. Most of the time your pulp gets inflamed from an unattended cavity or a cracked tooth (both variables that make the chances of an infection higher). 

How Do I Know If I Need a Root Canal? 

Often the first thing you’ll notice is tooth pain that just won’t go away. From there, you’ll have your dentist take a closer look to see if your pulp is inflamed. A pulp usually gets inflamed when a cavity isn’t treated in a timely manner or if your tooth is cracked or damaged. Both instances make the inside of your tooth more susceptible to oral bacteria getting inside and causing an infection.

What is a Root Canal Treatment?

Before your root canal, you’ll get x-rays of the affected area to ensure it is the right option. Then there are multiple steps along the way to fixing you up properly. 

1. Anesthesia

A local anesthesia is given to numb your tooth and the surrounding gums so you don’t feel any pain from the incision. 

2. Access Hole

Your dentist will make a small hole in the crown of the tooth to access your pulp.

3. Pulp Removal

Next, the dentist will use small dental instruments to remove the nerves, blood vessels, and tissues located inside your tooth.

4. Shaping the Canals

After removing the pulp, the pulp chamber and root canals will get cleaned, disinfected, and shaped.

5. Filling the Canals

Now it’s time to fill the empty canals with gutta-percha, a flexible, rubbery dental material.

6. Sealing the Tooth

To seal everything up, a temporary dental filling is placed to block the tooth from any bacteria that could re-enter.

7. Placing the Final Restoration

In most cases, you’ll need a dental crown. This is necessary to protect the treated tooth and restore your bite. Crowns are tailored to fit perfectly in your mouth, so getting them made usually takes two to three weeks. Once your crown is ready, the temporary filling is removed so the crown can slide right in.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

The length of a root canal procedure will vary, depending on the size of the tooth, the amount of roots, and on the level of infection. It could be a one or two-appointment procedure. Typically it will take 30 – 60 minutes but could take 60 – 90 minutes.

Should I Go to a Dentist or An Endodontist for a Root Canal?

You can have a dentist or an endodontist perform this procedure, but if you are treating a tooth that has multiple roots or is complex, you’ll be recommended to go to an endodontist. 

Does a Root Canal Hurt? 

No need to worry, most people seem to be relieved after the procedure. This is mainly because the initial infection, which was inflicting pain, is now gone. Make sure to call your healthcare provider if you have throbbing pain after a root canal.

How Many Dental Visits Does it Take to Complete a Root Canal?

Typically it can be done in one or two appointments, but it all depends on the complications and severity. 

After one or two appointments, your smile and your tooth will be as good as new. Make sure to keep up with dental hygiene so you can prevent future cavities. Preventing cavities will help keep you away from future root canals. See your dentist when you have tooth pain as they can help you spot any potential cracked teeth and take action on them before infection happens and leads to an inflamed pulp. 

Root Canal FAQs

A root canal treats a dental condition known as pulpitis or irreversible pulpitis. Due to extensive decay, trauma, or recurrent dental treatments, the fragile pulp of a tooth can become inflamed or infected, known as pulpitis. This condition can cause intense pain, sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures, swelling, and even the formation of an abscess. This procedure is performed to alleviate these symptoms and save the tooth. The damaged or infected pulp is removed during the treatment, and the tooth’s interior is cleaned, sanitized, and then sealed to stop the spread of infection. This treatment helps relieve pain, restore oral health, and preserve the natural tooth structure.

A root canal treatment, or endodontic therapy, is typically performed to save a severely infected or damaged tooth. The longevity largely depends on various factors, including the individual’s oral hygiene practices, the extent of the initial damage, and the tooth’s overall health and surrounding structures. Generally, a well-executed procedure can provide long-lasting results, often allowing the tooth to function normally for many years or even a lifetime.

However, it’s important to note that regular dental check-ups and proper oral care, such as brushing, flossing, and routine cleanings, are crucial to maintaining the health and longevity of the treated tooth. Following the dentist’s instructions and seeking timely dental care if any issues arise can significantly contribute to lasting success.

After a root canal procedure, the treated tooth undergoes a few post-treatment changes. Initially, there might be some mild discomfort or sensitivity, which can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. The dentist may prescribe antibiotics if there is an infection. A temporary filling is often placed to protect the tooth until a permanent restoration, such as a dental crown, is placed. In subsequent appointments, the dentist will evaluate the tooth’s healing progress and determine when the permanent repair can be identified. Once the tooth is fully healed and restored, it should function like a normal tooth, and regular dental care, including brushing, flossing, and professional check-ups, should be maintained to ensure its long-term health.

The recovery period after a root canal procedure can vary from person to person. Generally, the initial discomfort and sensitivity to subside take a few days to a week. However, the full healing process may take a few weeks or even months, as the surrounding tissues and bone need time to repair. It’s important to follow the dentist’s post-treatment instructions and seek prompt dental attention if there are persistent or worsening symptoms.