Root canals are one of the most feared and least understood dental procedures. While many people dread getting a root canal, the truth is this procedure is safe, effective, and painless because your mouth will be fully numbed the entire time. Getting a root canal is much like getting a filling. If your dentist has recommended a root canal, you likely have many questions about what you can expect. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about this endodontic treatment.

What Is a Root Canal?

A root canal or endodontic therapy is a specialized dental procedure that saves a natural tooth that would otherwise be extracted. A root canal is necessary when the pulp of your tooth becomes infected or inflamed due to decay, a faulty crown, repeated dental procedures, a crack or chip, or trauma to the tooth without visible damage. If an infected tooth is not treated, it can become very painful and may even lead to an abscess that can be life-threatening.

What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?

A root canal involves removing dead and diseased pulp from your tooth and disinfecting the inside of the tooth before fitting a permanent crown. Your endodontist will perform this procedure in several stages over the course of one or two visits.

The first stage of a root canal involves making an opening in your tooth. This opening is made through the back of your tooth if the damaged tooth is in the front or through the crown of a molar or pre-molar. A pulpectomy will then be performed to remove infected or dead pulp. The root canal will be enlarged and cleaned to prepare your tooth for a filling.

The now-clean and empty canal will be filled with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. A small rod may also be added if your tooth needs additional support.

Finally, your endodontist will create and fit a permanent crown over your treated tooth. This will restore normal shape, appearance, and function to your tooth. A post may also be required if your tooth was badly damaged.

When Is a Root Canal Necessary?

Endodontic therapy is required to save your tooth when the pulp in your tooth is inflamed or infected due to deep decay, a crack, repeated dental procedures, or some other form of damage to the pulp. This procedure is the only way to stop a tooth infection from spreading to the rest of your body while saving your tooth.

You may need a root canal if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Discomfort or pain when biting or chewing
  • Severe pain or a dull, throbbing ache
  • Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold. A normal toothache can also cause sensitivity but it won’t linger.
  • Toothache that radiates to your neck, jaw, or ear
  • Facial swelling
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • Visible lump on your gums near the tooth
  • Fever

Do I Really Need a Root Canal if My Tooth Doesn’t Bother Me?

It’s common for some people to experience tooth pain that goes away on its own or after taking antibiotics. While the pain may be gone, the cause of the pain isn’t. Your tooth still has an infection that can’t be cured with antibiotics. Endodontic therapy is designed to treat the infection at its source: inside your tooth. A root canal will stop the infection from spreading beyond your tooth.

There are also some people who never feel pain from an infected tooth. In these cases, a dental infection is only discovered through a clinical exam or x-rays. When a tooth has a chronic infection, the body can adjust to prevent the pain from becoming noticeable.

Does a Root Canal Hurt?

A lot of people do have a fear of going to the dentist and root canals in particular but a root canal treatment isn’t painful. The discomfort is the same as a filling. The only discomfort you feel during the procedure is during the initial anesthesia injection. A root canal doesn’t cause pain; it relieves the pain you are feeling from an infected tooth. Advances in endodontics have made root canal therapy virtually pain-free and this procedure can usually be completed in just one visit. Your endodontist can help you better understand what you can expect to feel during and after your procedure.

Does it Hurt Afterward?

You can expect some discomfort after the anesthesia wears off, which usually takes a few hours after your procedure. Your tooth will likely be sensitive to biting pressure for the first few days after your procedure. Over-the-counter painkillers are usually enough to manage this discomfort but your endodontist can prescribe a medication if you don’t find relief. The discomfort you experience should significantly subside within the first day or two.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

The amount of time your root canal will take depends on the type of tooth that’s infected (such as a molar or front tooth) and the details of the procedure. In general, you can expect to be in the office for up to 2 hours. In many cases, we can complete your entire procedure in a single visit. Sometimes a second appointment will be necessary.

What Is a Dental Crown?

Endodontic therapy is an effective way to save your tooth, but removing the pulp does make your tooth drier and more brittle. A crown will be necessary to protect your tooth from cracking or breaking when chewing. A dental crown is a fixed prosthetic device that is cemented onto your tooth to completely cover or cap the tooth. Along with strengthening your damaged tooth, a crown can restore a normal shape and appearance to your tooth.

Not every tooth requires a crown after a root canal. The incisors and canines in the front may not need a crown but the molars and pre-molars are very likely to require a crown for protection. Research has found that placing a dental crown after a root canal increases the survival rate of the tooth by 6 times.

How Do I Take Care of My Crown?

A crown can last a lifetime but they can come loose or become damaged. Your crown should be cared for like your natural teeth with brushing twice a day, daily flossing, and regular checkups with your dentist. You should avoid chewing on ice and hard objects to prevent damage to your crown.

Is It Expensive?

A root canal is certainly more expensive than an extraction but it’s less invasive and expensive than extracting your tooth and later replacing it with a dental implant or bridge. The cost of your endodontic therapy will depend on your insurance company. If you are concerned about the cost, contact our office. Our staff can help you understand your insurance information and estimate the cost of your root canal. We also offer discounts and payment plans for patients without dental coverage.

Is Extraction a Better Alternative to a Root Canal?

An extraction may be the most affordable solution but it’s never the best course of action. We always recommend saving your natural teeth when possible because nothing can truly replace a natural tooth. Artificial teeth may make you avoid certain foods and they will eventually fail and require replacement. Tooth extraction can also lead to other dental issues such as bite problems, drifting of your teeth, and TMJ discomfort.

Without the root of a tooth in your jaw, your jawbone will also begin to break down over time. Dental implants are the only solution available to stop bone loss from missing teeth as they create an anchor within the jaw that mimics a natural tooth root, but a dental implant is an expensive and invasive procedure.

If your dentist recommends a tooth extraction, ask if a root canal is possible or schedule a consultation with an endodontist at either our Dentists in Downtown Crossing or with our Dentists in Government Center.