What Is a Root Canal?
A root canal is a
dental procedure involving the removal of the soft center of the tooth, the pulp.
The pulp is made up of nerves,
connective tissue, and blood vessels that help the tooth grow.
In the majority of cases, a dental specialist
(either an endodontist or oral surgeon) will perform a root canal while you’re
under local anesthesia.
Learn more about this
common procedure, as well as the potential risks involved.
When Is a Root
A root canal is performed when the soft inner part
of a tooth, known as the pulp, is injured or becomes inflamed or infected.
The crown of the tooth — the part you can see above
your gums — can remain intact even if the pulp is dead. Removing injured or
infected pulp is the best way to preserve the structure of the tooth.
Common causes of damage to the pulp
- deep decay due to an untreated cavity
- multiple dental procedures on the
- a chip or crack in the tooth
- an injury to the tooth (You might
injure a tooth if you get hit in the mouth. The pulp can still be damaged even
if the injury doesn’t crack the tooth.)
The most common symptoms of damaged pulp
include pain in your tooth and swelling and a heat sensation in your gums. Your
dentist will examine the painful tooth and take X-rays to confirm the
diagnosis. Your dentist will refer you to an endodontist or oral surgeon if
they think you need a root canal.
How Is a
Root Canal Performed?
A root canal is
performed in a dental office. When you arrive for your appointment, a
technician will escort you to a treatment room, help you get situated in a
chair, and place a bib around your neck to protect your clothes from stains.
Step 1: Anesthetic
The specialist will
place a small amount of numbing medication on your gum near the affected tooth.
Once it has taken effect, a local anesthetic will be injected into your gums.
You may feel a sharp pinch or a burning sensation, but this will pass quickly.
You’ll remain awake
during the procedure, but the anesthetic will keep you from feeling any pain.
Step 2: Removing the Pulp
When your tooth is numb, the endodontist
or oral surgeon will remove the top part of the tooth with a drill. Once the
infected or damaged pulp is exposed, the specialist will carefully remove it
using special tools called files. They’ll be especially careful to clean out
all the pathways (canals) in your tooth.
Step 3: Antibiotics
Once the pulp has been removed, the surgeon
may coat the area with a topical antibiotic to ensure that the infection is
gone and to prevent reinfection. They also may prescribe you oral antibiotics.
Step 4: Temporary Filling
The surgeon will end the procedure by
filling the tooth with a soft, temporary material. This sealant helps prevent
the canals from damage by saliva.
Your Root Canal
Your tooth and gums might feel sore when
the numbing medication wears off. Your gums might swell. Most dentists will
have you treat these symptoms with over-the-counter pain medications such as
acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Call your dentist if the pain
becomes extreme or lasts for more than a few days.
You should be able to resume your
normal routine the day after the procedure. Avoid chewing with the damaged
tooth until it’s permanently filled or a crown is placed over the top.
You’ll see your regular dentist
within a few days of the root canal. They’ll take X-rays to make sure that any
infection is gone. They’ll also replace the temporary filling with a permanent
If you prefer, the dentist may place
a permanent crown on the tooth. Crowns are artificial teeth that can be made
from porcelain or gold. The benefit of a crown is its realistic appearance.
It may take you several weeks to get
used to how the tooth feels after the procedure. This is normal and no cause
Risks of a Root
A root canal is performed in an
effort to save your tooth. Sometimes, however, the damage is too deep or the
enamel is too frail to withstand the procedure. These factors can lead to loss
of the tooth.
Another risk is developing an abscess
at the root of the tooth if some of the infected material remains behind or if
the antibiotics aren’t effective.
If you’re apprehensive about a root
canal, you can talk to your dentist about an extraction instead. This often
involves placing a partial denture or an implant in place of the damaged tooth.
What Happens After a Root Canal?
A root canal is considered a restorative
procedure. Most people who undergo the procedure are able to enjoy the positive
results for the rest of their lives. Still, how long results last depend on the
way you take care of your teeth.
Just as the rest of your teeth depend
on good oral hygiene habits, your restored tooth requires regular brushing and