Root Canal FAQ

What is root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is the removal of infection from  a tooth for the purpose of trying to save it from extraction. The need for root canal treatment can arise from many sources such as cavities or cracks.  Once the root canal system has become infected, the body cannot eradicate the bacteria within the tooth, so root canal treatment or extraction is necessary.  

Is it true that root canal treatment is painful?

The root canal procedure is not usually painful.  In cases where the patient is experiencing severe pain prior to the root canal treatment (sometimes called "hot" teeth), the local anesthetic may not be effective even when delivered to the correct area. Studies show that only 30-50% of "hot" teeth will be properly anesthetized with a single injection. However, with advanced techniques such as intraosseus local anesthesia and periodontal ligament injections, nearly 100% of these teeth can be fully anesthetized, making the root canal treatment pain-free.

Endodontists receive advanced training for the management of dental pain.  "Hot" teeth can be difficult to anesthetize, and there is no one better prepared to ensure you have a comfortable experience!

How do I know if I need root canal treatment?

Pain and/or swelling from the teeth are symptoms of infected teeth.  The ADA has published a dental symptom checker on its website.  The classic symptoms of a tooth requiring root canal treatment are: hot or cold sensitivity, biting sensitivity, and swelling in the gums or jaws.  Please call for an evaluation if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.  

What happens if the pulp gets injured?

When the pulp is diseased or injured and can't repair itself, it dies. The most common cause of pulp death is a cracked tooth or a deep cavity. Both of these problems can let germs (bacteria) enter the pulp. Germs can cause an infection inside of the tooth. Left without treatment, pus builds up at the root tip, in the jawbone, forming a "pus-pocket" called an abscess. An abscess can cause damage to the bone around the teeth.

Why does the pulp need to be removed?

When the infected pulp, which is made up of blood vessels and nerves, is not removed, pain and/or swelling can result. Some elements of the infection can injure your jaw bones and the resulting bacteria may enter your bloodstream. Without treatment, your tooth may have to be removed. 

What does treatment involve?

Treatment usually involves just one visit, however certain cases may require a second or third appointment. During treatment, the diseased pulp is removed. The pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth are then cleaned and filled with a rubber-type material that seals the tooth so that no germs enter the tooth.

Here's how your tooth is saved through treatment:

First, an opening is made through the top of the tooth into the pulp chamber. The pulp is then removed. The root canal(s) is cleaned and smoothed. Medications and disinfectants are delivered into the root canal(s) to help get rid of germs and prevent infection. If the treatment requires more than one visit, a temporary filling will be placed in the crown opening to protect the tooth between appointments or the tooth may be left open for a few days to drain. If a prescription is provided, please follow the directions as written. At the subsequent appointment the temporary filling is removed, the root canal(s) are cleaned and filled. At this point the root canal is complete. Please follow the instructions in "Taking Care of Your Tooth" to make sure the tooth is properly restored following your root canal treatment.