What is a Root Canal?

Most people have heard of a root canal and many have experienced it. However, it isn’t something that most dental patients fully understand. They know their tooth hurts. They know there’s an infection and a root canal cures it. Yet, they don’t always ask about the process. They just want the pain to stop. We want you to understand what a root canal is and why it’s an important procedure. It can not only relieve pain but also save your tooth.

What Is a Root Canal?

  What is a Root Canal? A root canal sometimes called endodontic treatment, is a procedure that removes bacteria from the root canal. This ends the infection. It also prevents reinfection and saves the tooth. A root canal involves removing the infection section inside the tooth. Then, the area is cleaned, disinfected, filled, and sealed with a cap. A root canal is considered a serious procedure but it isn’t so different that getting a filling. Dentists do them daily so they are more routine than they used to be. Data from the American Association of Endodontists states that more than 41,000 root canals are done in the U.S. daily.

The Tooth Structure

Understanding the root canal procedure involves looking at the tooth structure. Your tooth is covered with enamel. Under that is a hard layer named dentin. Further below the dentin is soft tissue. This is called the pulp. The pulp has connective tissue, nerves, and blood vessels and all of that helps your tooth root grow when it first develops. It doesn’t need the pulp once the tooth is fully developed because the surrounding tissues nourish it. Infection of a tooth can happen if a cavity is left untreated or if you crack a tooth and bacteria grows when food debris gets into the crack. Symptoms That You Need a Root Canal A root canal is a growing infection so you will have symptoms. Some symptoms include: The Root Canal Procedure Root canals usually involve a special type of dentist called an endodontist but a general dentist can perform them as well. Our dentists are qualified as endodontists to do root canals. A root canal typically will take two appointments to complete. The first appointment is to do the actual root canal procedure. The second appointment is to install the permanent cap on the tooth. The average time to perform a root canal is between 30 ad 60 minutes, although more complicated cases can take up to an hour and a half. Installing a crown takes less than an hour on the second appointment. Your dentist will recommend a root canal in cases where there is an abscess in the tooth. This can cause tremendous pain and swelling. A dentist will give you an antibiotic for the infection after the initial exam. This will reduce the swelling and pain until the root canal can be performed in another appointment. The first thing the dentist will do is numb the area so you won’t feel any pain while they are working. You will feel some pressure as they work on your tooth. Those who have high anxiety have sedation options that will help them relax. These include oral sedatives, nitrous oxide ad intravenous sedation (IV). The next thing the dentist will do is called a dental dam placement. This is where a small rubber dam is placed to isolate the tooth and keep it dry.  The dentist will then use a drill to create a small hole in the top of the tooth to get to the pulp. Infection pulp is then removed using tiny dental instruments that look like super thin pasta. Blood vessels and nerves in the pulp are also removed. The dentist will then shape the canals. This is when the root canals and pulp chamber are cleaned and disinfected. The empty canals are then filled with gutta-percha, which is a rubbery, flexible material that prevents the chamber from reinfection. The dentist will then put a temporary filling in the tooth to seal it until a crown can be installed. The dentist probably would have made an impression on your tooth during a previous appointment so your customized crown can be created. A crown takes about three weeks to be fabricated so you will need to come back for a second appointment to install it when it’s ready. The dentist will remove the temporary filling and install the permanent crown.

Is It Painful?

The procedure is not painful. Most people have immediate relief from their tooth pain after a root canal. Your tooth may be sensitive for a couple of days but that can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. Your dentist may also issue a prescription for pain after your procedure.

Preparing for a Root Canal

You can make the root canal procedure better by taking care of yourself before your appointment. Take all your antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medicines as prescribed by your dentist to reduce the infection. Give up smoking because smoking prevents the body from properly healing. Eat a healthy meal because local anesthesia will number your mouth for a while making it challenging to eat immediately afterward.

What to Do After a Root Canal

Most people can return to work or school the day after getting a root canal. Those who have sedation may need to take an extra day or two off. The most important thing to do after a root canal is to keep the area clean by brushing and flossing.


Getting a root canal isn’t as big of a procedure as it once was years ago. New technology and sedation methods make it much easier. You can get rid of tooth pain by scheduling to see your dentist today.  
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