Root canal treatment is designed to repair and save a tooth whose nerve is badly decayed or infected. The goal of the treatment is to remove bacteria from the infected root canal to prevent reinfection, and save the natural tooth. During a root canal procedure, the inflamed or infected nerve is removed and the inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed.
Without treatment, the tissue surrounding the tooth will become infected, abscesses may form, and the tooth will likely die.
Signs You Might Need a Root Canal
- An abscess on your gums (looks like a pimple)
- Moderate to severe lingering pain when drinking hot beverages or eating hot foods
- Pain in a specific tooth when chewing or biting
- A toothache that wakes you up at night, or starts to hurt when you lay down or lower your head
There’s no need to worry if your dentist says you need a root canal to treat a damaged or diseased tooth. The procedure is relatively painless, and it’s extremely effective at eliminating pain and saving the tooth by making it healthy again. Similar to getting a filling, a root canal can be done in one or two appointments, depending on the condition of your tooth and personal circumstances.
Reasons for a Root Canal
There are several reasons your tooth may need a root canal: deep decay, trauma, cracks or chips, and large fillings that cause inflammation to the tooth’s nerve.
Root Canal FAQs
A root canal requires one or more appointments and is performed by a dentist in the
- An X-ray is taken to determine the shape of the root canal and see if there are any signs
- The tooth and surrounding area is numbed, and then a sheet of rubber (known as a rubber dam) is placed around the tooth to keep it dry.
- An access opening is made in the top of the tooth and then special dental instruments are used to remove the nerve, bacteria, and any dental decay that is present.
- The inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. If an additional appointment is scheduled, a temporary filling will be used, and the tooth will be filled and sealed with gutta-percha at the second appointment.
- After the gutta percha is placed, the opening on the top of the tooth is covered with a filling and/or a crown, protecting the tooth and restoring its normal function.
After a root canal, it’s common to still experience some sensitivity and/or pain for a few days. This will get better as the inflammation clears and the tooth heals. In the meantime, take over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), as directed. You may also be prescribed an antibiotic, which should also be taken as directed.
The cost of a root canal varies depending on the complexity of the treatment needed and which tooth is affected. Dental insurance coverage varies, but we are here to help you understand your coverage options. There are alternatives to a root canal, but saving your natural tooth is the best option. The alternative is having your tooth extracted (pulled) and replaced with a bridge, implant, or removable partial denture. While each of these restore chewing function, they are more expensive, require more procedures to adjacent teeth and supporting tissue, and take more treatment time.
We also have two options that make dental care more affordable: MyDental Plan and Care Credit, which we are happy to discuss with you.
If you are given a temporary filling, avoid eating hard or sticky foods, and try to chew on the other side of your mouth.
After your root canal, continue to brush and floss twice a day as you normally should, unless your dentist gives you different instructions.
Though the tooth that had the root canal may feel slightly different than your other teeth for some time, you should contact your MCDC center immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Severe pain or pressure lasting more than a few days
- Visible swelling inside or outside your mouth
- An allergic reaction to medication (rash, hives, or itching)
- Your bite feels uneven
- The temporary crown or filling, if one was put in place, comes out (Note: losing a thin
layer is normal)
- The symptoms, such as pain and sensitivity to cold, you experienced prior to your root