What Happens During A Root Canal?

Published May 16th, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

If you're experiencing pain in your tooth, there's a chance you may need a root canal as root canals are a common dental procedure that many people will need at some point in their lives.

Root canals are necessary when the nerve of the tooth becomes infected or dies which can happen for a variety of reasons, such as deep decay, trauma to the tooth, or a cracked tooth.

In this article, we will discuss what happens during a root canal and answer some common questions about the root canal procedure.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a dental treatment procedure that is performed when the nerve of your tooth becomes infected, which is called an abscessed tooth.

The infection can be caused by decay, injury, or other factors.

Your tooth consists of a crown, which is the visible part of your tooth, and the root, which is hidden beneath the gum line.

The dental pulp, also called just pulp, of your tooth is located in the root, with the pulp containing connective tissue, nerve tissue, and blood vessels.

The nerve tissue provides blood flow and sensation to your tooth.

root canal

During a root canal, the nerve and pulp are removed from the tooth and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed which helps to save the tooth from further damage.

Root canals are usually performed by your dentist or endodontist, which is a dentist who is a root canal specialist.

When do I need to get a root canal?

You may need root canal therapy if you have an abscessed tooth, which is an infection at the root of your tooth, or if you have significant tooth decay that has reached the pulp of your tooth which then becomes inflamed or infected.

Root canals are also often performed on teeth that have experienced trauma in some way, such as from a cracked or chipped tooth.

If you have any of these root canal symptoms, it is important to see your dentist or endodontist as soon as possible in order to save your tooth from further damage.

What are the symptoms of needing a root canal?

There are several symptoms that may indicate that you need a root canal which include:

  • Severe toothache pain that is often described as throbbing, constant, and may be felt in adjacent teeth and other areas such as your jaw bone or face
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures that lingers even after the stimulus has been removed
  • Tenderness or pain when chewing or when feeling any pressure
  • Swelling in your gums and gum tissue
  • Swelling in your jaw
  • A small, pimple-like bump on the soft tissue of your gums which can be a pus-filled pocket and have a foul odor or taste
  • Loose tooth
  • Discoloration of your tooth due to the dead or infected pulp
  • A chipped or cracked tooth from a sports injury or trauma that can lead to an infection

These symptoms may indicate that you have an abscessed tooth, which is a serious infection that needs to be treated right away.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see your dentist or endodontist as soon as possible as and untreated canal that is infected can spread to other areas.

How is a root canal performed?

Root canals are usually performed by your dentist or endodontist in their office.

The appointment can take anywhere from a half-hour to an hour and a half depending on the tooth as some teeth have multiple roots, and sometimes you may need multiple office visits to complete the procedure.

The steps your endodontist or dentist will take to perform a root canal include:

  1. Administer anesthesia: In order to ensure that you are comfortable during the procedure, your endodontist or dentist will usually give you local anesthesia, although nitrous oxide, intravenous (IV), or oral sedation may sometimes be necessary. They may use a numbing agent first and then administer the local anesthesia with a syringe that injects it into your surrounding gums.
  2. Isolate the tooth: A rubber dam, which is a sheet of rubber, will be placed around the tooth in order to keep it clean and free of saliva.
  3. Make an opening: Your endodontist or dentist will create an access hole through the crown of your tooth down to the pulp chamber.
  4. Removal of pulp: They will then use small files, which are special tools, to clean out the infection and remove the infected tissue and pulp from your tooth through the exterior hole.
  5. Shape the Root Canal: The root canal is then shaped so that it can be filled with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha, which is a biologically inert form of latex produced from a tree that is used as a sealing material.
  6. Fill the Root Canal: The root canal is then filled with gutta-percha and a sealer paste to prevent bacteria from reentering the tooth.
  7. Restore the Tooth: A temporary filling or crown, which is a porcelain or gold cover on your natural tooth, is usually placed on your tooth until a permanent dental restoration with a crown can be made which can happen at the time of the root canal but can take up to 3 weeks after the procedure to make.

Please note that if you receive local anesthesia you may drive to and from your appointments; however, if you use other forms of anesthesia you will need someone to pick you up after the procedure is done.

The reasons you may not want to use local anesthesia include certain medical conditions or a fear of dental procedures.

What happens after the root canal?

When your root canal is over, you may feel some discomfort and soreness in your tooth and gums which is normal. You can take over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen to help with any discomfort you may feel.

After your root canal, it is important to take good care of your tooth and have a permanent restoration placed as soon as possible, which may involve seeing your dentist or endodontist for another appointment.

Pain will normally subside after a few days, but it can take up to a week or two for you to feel completely normal again.

Root canal procedures usually have a high success rate and with proper dental care, your tooth can last you a lifetime although many factors determine how long it may last.

If your tooth pain persists or gets worse, specifically if it becomes severe pain, please see your dentist or endodontist immediately.

From around the web: root canal

Reddit - What should I suspect from a root canal

Reddit - Video of a Root Canal

Pinterest - Root Canal

Are there any risks with getting a root canal?

There are very few risks associated with root canals but as with any medical procedure, there are always potential risks and complications that may lead to root canal treatment failures.

These include:

Infection

One of the most common complications with root canals is another root canal infection that can happen if the tooth is not completely clean of bacteria or if the seal on the tooth is not secure enough and bacteria are able to enter.

Nerve Damage

Although rare, it is possible for the nerve to be damaged during the procedure which can cause numbness or tingling in your tooth, gums, lips, or tongue.

Persistent Pain

In some cases, you may experience persistent pain after a root canal. If this happens, it is important to see your dentist or endodontist as soon as possible as it could be a sign of an infection.

Loss of tooth

In very rare cases, the infected tooth may need to be removed if the root canal is unable to be saved.

Abscess

An abscess is a pocket of pus that can form at the end of the tooth's root and can happen if the infection is not completely removed or if bacteria are able to enter through a crack in the tooth.

In rare cases, a secondary root canal may be needed as bacteria or other debris may still be present in the root canal.

Although root canals are generally safe procedures, it is important to talk to your dentist or endodontist about any concerns you may have and to follow their post-operative instructions carefully in order to minimize any potential risks.

Summary

Root canal treatments are a common procedure that is used to save a tooth that has become infected or damaged.

The procedure involves removing the nerve and pulp tissue from the tooth, shaping the root canal, and then filling it with a rubber-like material before placing a final crown on it.

Root canals usually have a high success rate but there are potential risks associated with the procedure such as infection, nerve damage, and the loss of the tooth.

If you think you may need a root canal, have signs of infection in your teeth, or if you have any questions about the procedure, please talk to your dentist or endodontist.

References and sources:

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21759-root-canal

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tooth-abscess/multimedia/root-canal/sls-20076717

https://www.jendodon.com/article/S0099-2399(77)80091-5/pdf

https://www.healthline.com/health/root-canal#procedure

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