A root canal is required when the tissue inside of your tooth (the nerve and the blood supply) becomes infected. Symptoms may be acute; often initial cold and hot sensitivity may then develop into a throbbing ache often more pronounced at night. In other cases, the nerve can break down slowly, a chronic presentation where the tissue in the tooth deteriorates without symptoms.
In either case, the tooth is at risk of developing an abscess which can lead to pressure, pain and swelling. An abscess can quickly become a serious condition if not addressed. The root canal will remove the infected tissues and allow the affected areas to fully heal.
At Dental Health Concepts, we can address many teeth that require root canals, however, in certain instances we may refer you to see an endodontist or root canal specialist. For root canals performed in our office, we may take an additional 3D x-ray in order to get a better view of the interior structure of your tooth. At your appointment we will remove infected tissues with specialized files, and then fill and seal those spaces with a biologically inert material. After a root canal is finished, a final restoration is needed. Typically, this will be a crown, but occasionally if the structure of the tooth is not overly compromised, a simple filling can be used.
Root Canal FAQs
Will it hurt?
The vast majority of the time you will have no pain whatsoever. Local anesthetics work quite well, and few patients report any discomfort.
How long will it take?
Depending on the tooth, a root canal may take 40 minutes, or two appointments of two hours each. Actively infected teeth are often treated in two visits, and we may ask you to take antibiotics during that time. The most important part of the process is for the infected material to be removed thoroughly and completely so full healing can be achieved.
Can’t I just take antibiotics?
Antibiotics will treat the infection, but do not treat the underlying cause of the infection (the infected tissue inside the tooth). That means the infection will come back, and whether that happens in a matter of weeks, months or years is impossible to know. Often, infections will be worse the second time around. Only the root canal treatment (or extraction of the tooth) can eliminate the infected tissue that instigated the initial infection. If your tooth is sensitive to hot or cold, the dying tissue can become extremely painful, and antibiotics will not help with discomfort.
Will I have any discomfort after the procedure?
It is not uncommon to have some soreness for 48 hours after the procedure. Usually the discomfort is easily addressed with Ibuprofen or Tylenol. Tenderness in the area can persist for longer than that, and in some cases you may be aware of that area (when chewing on it) for up to a year. Because the bone at the end of your tooth can be damaged, it may take at least six months to fully heal. After a root canal is finished, we will confirm with a follow-up x-ray in the next year that the area is healing as expected.
How long does a root canal last?
Ideally, a tooth treated with a root canal can last your lifetime. However, root canals are often performed on teeth that are significantly compromised. Root canal treated teeth are more susceptible to fracture than teeth with an intact nerve and blood supply, and so root and crown fractures can render the tooth hopeless. Root canals can also become re-infected or the teeth on top of root canals can break. The reality is that we use our teeth a lot, and they are subject to wear and tear and breakdown over time. To give your tooth the best chance to last a long time, brush and floss effectively, return for routine care so issues can be addressed early, and if you clench or grind, wear your appliance (typically a night guard) consistently to protect your teeth.