What happens during a root canal?

Root canals are relatively painless and extremely effective procedures. According to the American Dental Association’s survey of Dental Services Rendered, over 15 million root canal treatments are performed annually in the United States.

To ease your fears and demystify the process, here are some facts about what goes on during a root canal, and what you can expect after it’s done.

What is a root canal?

Deep inside your tooth is a collection of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue called pulp. Pulp is vital to the development of your tooth, but once your tooth is fully-grown, the pulp no longer serves an essential purpose. When your pulp is damaged, it can cause severe pain, infection, and abscess. A root canal treatment removes damaged pulp to avoid complications and save the healthy exterior of your tooth.

Why might I need a root canal?

Root canals are needed when there is extensive infection or inflammation in the pulp, which is often caused by untreated tooth decay or traumatic injury to the tooth. Your dentist will be able to tell you definitively whether a root canal is necessary, but some signs that you may need one include:

  • Severe pain while chewing or biting
  • Chipped, cracked, or broken teeth
  • Swollen, tender, or dark gums
  • Extreme temperature sensitivity 

What happens during a root canal?

Root canals can be performed by general dentists or by specialists and may require multiple office visits to complete. During the first phase of a root canal, your dentist will take a full x-ray of your tooth to determine the extent of the damage and develop a plan for treatment. They’ll then administer anesthesia before drilling a hole into your tooth, through which they remove the pulp, nerves, and any bacteria or debris that has accumulated using tools called root canal files.

After the root is fully cleaned, your doctor may apply medication to clear out any infection or seal the tooth with a rubber compound called gutta percha. In the final phase, your dentist will restore and protect your tooth, often with a crown or crown and post.

The exact process and the length of time it takes to complete the root canal will vary based on which tooth is being treated and the extent of the damage.

Is a root canal painful?

Most patients report that root canals are painless procedures, with sensations similar to that of getting a cavity filled. Thanks to anesthesia, modern dental technology, and experienced root canal dentists, the painful root canal is now a thing of the past.

What can I expect after a root canal?

After your root canal procedure, you may feel heightened sensitivity, particularly if you were treated for an infection. Any discomfort can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain medication. Your affected tooth may also feel slightly different from your other teeth for a while after a root canal, as your body adjusts to the changes. This is completely normal, but always speak to your dentist about any concerns you may have.

Can I prevent a root canal?

When the pulp of your tooth becomes infected and inflamed, a root canal is necessary to avoid complications. To prevent infection and tooth decay, always practice good dental hygiene, including twice-daily brushing, flossing, and regular visits to your dentist for professional cleaning and examination. Also, you can protect your teeth from trauma by wearing a mouthguard when playing contact sports.

Eliminate your tooth pain

You don’t have to suffer with tooth discomfort. If you’re experiencing pain and sensitivity in a tooth, you may need a root canal and Sedation and Implant Dentists can help. With over 40 years of professional experience, our dentists will quickly and thoroughly assess your teeth to determine the next steps for treatment.

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by Thomas Gonzales D.D.S.

Thomas Gonzales D.D.S. is a Los Angeles dentist with advanced training in dental implants. He has 46 years’ experience and is licensed in IV Sedation. Dr. Gonzales has taught courses worldwide on dental implants including for Noris Medical, Nobel, Neodent, LVI Global and Dental Implant Institute. He was a professor of IV Sedation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine and a neuromuscular dentistry instructor for Loma Linda Medical Center. He is a member of several prestigious organizations, including: the International Congress of Oral Implantologists, American Academy of Implant Dentistry, American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation and American Dental Society of Anesthesiology. Dr. Gonzales is a graduate of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry. He served in the United States Army and is a Vietnam War Veteran.

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