A root canal, also referred to as endodontic treatment, is a procedure during which a dental specialist removes soft tissue from within a tooth that has become infected or inflamed. This tissue, called dental pulp, contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue that feed the tooth’s root and keep it healthy. When the dental pulp of a tooth becomes damaged or begins to deteriorate—as the result of damage to the tooth, broader infection, or extensive decay—it can cause a very painful pus-filled pocket (abscess) at the root of the tooth. The only way to relieve the pain, save the tooth, and prevent reinfection is with a root canal procedure.
Root canals can be performed by a dentist, but are also referred to an endodontist, a dental professional who specializes in dental pulp. An endodontist’s additional training includes pain management, pain diagnosis, and other procedures necessary for saving natural teeth.
Root canals are relatively standard procedures, regardless of who conducts them. Similar to a filling, root canals are typically a same-day, in-house procedure that can take place in your regular dentist’s office. As with a filling, the dentist or endodontist will apply a numbing medication to the gum surrounding the affected tooth or teeth, then inject a local anesthetic.
When the tooth and gum are numb, a small hole will be drilled in the top of the tooth to expose the infected pulp. The dentist or endodontist will clean out the pulp as well as the inside of the tooth and coat it with an antibiotic to prevent reinfection. The tooth will be filled and sealed with a paste or synthetic material, then covered with a temporary filling and sealant.
Because they are performed under local anesthesia, root canals are generally no more painful than other routine procedures. Some soreness, numbness, or mild discomfort may persist for 24-48 hours after the treatment—which can often be managed by over-the-counter pain medications—but nearly all patients can return to their normal activities the same day. In most cases, the pain of the infected tooth is much greater than any pain felt after the root canal procedure.
A root canal does typically take a little longer than a routine filling, because, in addition to anesthesia, set-up, and preparation, the entire nerve of the tooth must be carved out, rinsed, disinfected, and sealed. In most cases, simple root canals require just one appointment lasting between 30 minutes to just over an hour. However, severe cases may demand 90 minutes or more, or even a second appointment if the dentist or endodontist recommends a permanent filling or crown for the tooth. The time needed to perform a root canal is determined by several factors, such as the number of canals that need cleaning and the type of tooth that needs treatment. Some teeth have only one root that requires treatment, but others can have up to three roots that need treatment.
Canines and incisors. Canine and incisor teeth are the teeth in the front of your mouth that help you tear and cut food when you eat. Their single root makes them faster and easier to fill and treat.
Premolars. Premolars are more toward the middle of your teeth. They have one or two roots, so cleaning them out may take an hour or more.
Molars. Molars are the large teeth in the back of your mouth and can have up to four canals. Root canals performed on molars can take 90 minutes or more.
Unlike other parts of your body, teeth are unable to heal themselves, especially once they are infected. If left untreated, infection and inflammation will spread to other tissues, teeth, or even areas of your mouth. A root canal is the only way to preserve a natural tooth because neither cleanings nor fillings adequately remove all of the damaged pulp. The only alternative to a root canal is the extraction of the entire tooth itself. Extractions are considerably more expensive, involved, and time-consuming than a root canal, and carry the added requirement of replacing the removed tooth with an implant, crown, bridge, or partial denture to maintain proper oral function.
For more information on root canals, visit our root canal FAQ page.
Root Canal Treatment at Dental Depot
Root canals often sound scarier than they are, but the caring team at Dental Depot is committed to making your experience as convenient, comfortable, and painless as possible. We know dental procedures are often the last thing you want to do with your valuable time, but with flexible scheduling, specialists on staff, and plenty of exam rooms, Dental Depot helps you get in, get out, and get on with your day. We pride ourselves on providing the high-quality, affordable dental care you and your family deserve in a professional, friendly environment. To find the location nearest you, or to request an appointment, visit our dental office location finder.