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Do you have a persistent toothache? Sensitivity to hot and cold foods? Tooth discoloration? Swollen gums? A loose tooth? Or a chipped or cracked tooth? These are all signs and symptoms that should not be ignored. They are warning signs that something is not right with your teeth and gums. The sooner you see your dentist, the sooner the problem can be treated, and the better the outcome.

For many of the problems listed above, you may be recommended a treatment called a root canal. You may have heard about it – it is one of the most feared dental treatments worldwide. What is a root canal treatment? How commonly is it performed? And is it really as painful as people imagine? Keep reading to get answers to all your questions about a root canal.

What is a root canal treatment?

A root canal is a common dental procedure. It is performed in patients who have inflammation and infection in the root of a tooth. A root canal treatment can help save a badly damaged tooth instead of needing to remove it. The treatment involves removing the pulp (soft center of a tooth). The name comes from the fact that the dentist cleans the canals in the tooth root during this treatment. 1 In the majority of patients, the procedure is done under local anesthesia.

Root canal treatment is very common. More than 15 million are performed each year in the United States – that’s 41,000 root canal treatments every day. 2

Why is a root canal performed?

Each tooth has a soft central part called the pulp. The dental pulp is present throughout the inside of the tooth, extending from the visible part of the tooth which is called the crown to the part of the tooth that’s in the jawbone. Nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue are present in the pulp. When a tooth is decayed (it has a cavity) or is chipped or cracked, germs can enter the pulp, causing an infection. If the infection is not treated, it can lead to a tooth abscess, and ultimately to the death of the pulp and loss of the tooth. A root canal treatment is a restorative treatment that can help treat the infection and save the tooth.

How do I know if I need a root canal?

The most common symptoms of damaged tooth pulp are pain, swelling in the gums, and sensitivity to hot and cold foods. If you have any of these symptoms, see your dentist as soon as possible. They will examine your teeth and obtain dental x-rays to make a diagnosis. Based on the findings, the dentist will recommend the appropriate treatment – root canal or something else.

What are the steps for root canal treatment?

There are 5 main steps in a root canal: 3

Step 1: Your dentist will place a local anesthetic in the gum near the infected tooth. You will feel a slight pinching sensation when the medicine is injected. After the numbing medicine takes effect, you won’t feel any pain during the procedure.

Step 2: Your dentist will make an opening in the top of the tooth and use various tools to remove the damaged and infected pulp from the center of the tooth. The pulp chamber will be flushed and cleaned. The dentist will take special care to clean and disinfect the canals in the root to prevent re-infection.

Step 3: The tooth root will be coated with topical antibiotics to reduce the risk of re-infection.  You may also receive a prescription for oral antibiotics to take for a few days after your root canal treatment.

Step 4: The dentist will fill and seal the empty pulp chamber with a material called gutta-percha, a rubbery material obtained from the percha tree. They will then place a temporary filling at the top of the tooth to protect it from food and saliva.

Step 5: You will see your dentist in follow-up a few days after your root canal treatment. At this time, they will make sure there is no residual infection. They will then replace the temporary filling with a permanent one. To protect the tooth from future damage and return it to full function, dentists usually place a crown (artificial tooth) made from gold or porcelain (this can be made to match your natural teeth in color).

How painful is a root canal?

There are some misconceptions about pain during root canal treatment. Surveys show that people are more afraid of getting a root canal than public speaking, being in a room with spiders, and being trapped in an elevator. In reality, less than 2 out of 10 people who have a root canal describe it as their most painful dental treatment. 4

So, while a root canal may sound scary, it is not very different from getting a cavity filled. Your dentist will use local anesthesia to numb the area so that you’re comfortable during the treatment. You may have some soreness when the numbing medicine wears off. This can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

How long does it take to get over root canal treatment? How long do the results last?

In the majority of patients, it takes just a few days to recover from a root canal. You may feel a dull ache, pressure, and sensitivity for about a week, but after that, your tooth should feel normal. At the time of your follow-up appointment with your dentist, any pain and other symptoms from the root canal should be under control and subsiding. If not, this could signify a problem, and you should let your dentist know. Occasionally, more than one cleaning is required for a successful root canal.

The results of a tooth canal restorative treatment are lifelong. You will not need further treatment as long as you take good care of your teeth and maintain good oral hygiene.

What are the side effects of root canal treatment?

The most common side effects are soreness or pain around the treated tooth for a few days. Sometimes, the affected tooth is too badly damaged and the enamel is unable to withstand the root canal procedure. In such cases, it may not be possible to salvage the tooth. If this occurs, your dentist will extract the damaged tooth and replace it with a dental implant, bridge, or removable partial denture.

Advantages of having a root canal treatment

As noted, failure to treat a tooth pulp infection can lead to a tooth abscess and loss of the tooth. A root canal treatment can save your natural tooth. This allows for efficient function of the tooth (chewing and biting) as well as a natural appearance. What’s more, getting a root canal treatment not only benefits the affected tooth but also protects adjoining teeth from excessive wear and tear.

How much does root canal treatment cost?

The cost of a root canal varies from place to place. It also depends on how complex the treatment is and which tooth is affected. On average, a front tooth root canal can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000 and a molar root canal can range from $1,000 to $1,500. Your dental insurance should cover at least a part of the treatment, but check your policy for details. It is worth noting that restoration of your natural tooth with root canal treatment is not only better function-wise and appearance-wise, but is also far less expensive than the alternative, i.e., having your natural tooth removed and replaced with an implant or bridge. 5

Finding a dentist for a root canal treatment

Root canal treatments are pretty straightforward and all dentists perform them. You can get a root canal done by a general dentist or an endodontist (a specialist in root canal treatments).

Express Dentist is a nationwide network of top-rated dental care providers. You can call the toll-free hotline 1-844-593-0591 around-the-clock and connect with a partner dentist in your area.

Every dentist registered with Express Dentist is vetted to ensure you receive the highest quality of dental care. When you choose an Express Dentist partner, you are assured of same-day dental care in your area from accredited practitioners at affordable prices.

Express Dentist has partnered with hundreds of leading dental care specialists in the United States, so you can find a provider in your area no matter where you live. It’s never been easier to access high-quality dental care where you need it when you need it. Our exhaustive directory of emergency dentists means you can get 24-hour care for dental emergencies.

Call Express Dentist on 1-844-593-0591 and speak to a reputable dentist in your area today. Our toll-free 24-hour hotline is open 365 days a year for emergency dental referrals and instant access to dental experts. You can get care even if you don’t have dental insurance by paying the cost of your root canal treatment out-of-pocket.

About the author

Dr Greg Grillo
Dr. Greg Grillo

Dr. Greg Grillo DDS studied at the University of Washington where he received a bachelors degree with Honors and later attended dental school on the same campus. Following school Dr. Greg served in the United States Navy as a dental officer. During this time he received advanced training in specialty areas of dentistry while also treating families of members of the military.

As well as sharing valuable information on dentistry and oral health, Dr. Greg remains a practicing dentist to this day. He works with families in the Okanogan Valley where he lives with his wife and three children.

  1. American Association of Endodontists. Root Canal Treatment. Available online. Accessed on March 27, 2021.
  2. Loma Linda University Health. Let’s get to the root of root canal. Available online. Accessed on March 27, 2021.
  3. American Association of Endodontists. What is a root canal? Available online. Accessed on March 27, 2021.
  4. Pak JG, et al. (2011). Pain prevalence and severity before, during, and after root canal treatment: A systematic review. Available online. Accessed on March 27, 2021.
  5. American Association of Endodontists. Root Canal Explained. Available online. Accessed on March 27, 2021.

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