What is a Root Canal?

What happens during root canal treatment? Learn more about this quick, comfortable procedure that can relieve your pain and save your natural tooth.

There’s no need to be worried if your dentist or endodontist prescribes a root canal procedure to treat a damaged or diseased tooth. Millions of teeth are treated and saved this way each year, relieving pain and making teeth healthy again.

Inside your tooth, beneath the white enamel and a hard layer called dentin, is a soft tissue called pulp. This tissue contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue, which help grow the root of your tooth during its development. A fully developed tooth can survive without the pulp because the tooth continues to be nourished by the tissues surrounding it.

Modern endodontic treatment is nothing like those old sayings! It’s very similar to a routine filling and can usually be completed in one or two appointments, depending on the condition of your tooth and your personal circumstances. Getting a root canal is relatively painless and extremely effective. You’ll be back to smiling, biting and chewing with ease in no time.

Saving the natural tooth with root canal treatment has many advantages:

  • Efficient chewing
  • Normal biting force and sensation
  • Natural appearance
  • Protects other teeth from excessive wear or strain

All About Root Canals

A root canal (also known as an endodontic treatment) is a serious procedure, but one that specialists handle everyday. Before engaging in any type of dental work, it’s important to know the facts about root canals, from the procedure, potential pain, and price.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is the process of medically removing a seriously injured or diseased tooth. Also known as endodontic treatment, a root canal is the best way to relieve serious pain and make teeth healthy again. In addition to relieving pain, a root canal also helps protect surrounding teeth from excessive wear or strain.

Does a root canal hurt?

Since patients are given anesthesia, a root canal isn’t more painful than a regular dental procedure, such as a filling or getting a wisdom tooth removed. However, a root canal is generally a bit sore or numb after the procedure, and can even cause mild discomfort for a few days.

How do you know if you need a root canal?

Root canals are needed for a cracked tooth from injury or genetics, a deep cavity, or issues from a previous filling. Patients generally need a root canal when they notice their teeth are sensitive, particularly to hot and cold sensations. Sensitive teeth indicate that harmful bacteria are getting into the nerves of the jaw and must be removed.

Can I go to school or work after getting a root canal?

Although you will most likely be numb for 2-4 hours following the procedure, most patients are able to return to school or work directly following a root canal. However, most physicians advise against eating until the numbness is completely gone. If you work in manual labor, make sure to protect your teeth.

How long does a root canal take?

Although it varies based on the type of tooth, a root canal takes roughly 90 minutes to complete per tooth. Most anterior teeth can be completed in one hour, while premolars and molars can take up to two hours to complete. For retreatment (being treated again), procedure times can change wildly.

How much does a root canal cost? 

Although it depends heavily on your insurance and varies significantly based on the type of tooth, the average cost of a root canal can range anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Generally speaking, anterior (front teeth) tend to cost between $500 and $1,000, and molars (back teeth) costing upwards of $1,000.

To learn more about what happens during root canal treatment, visit our Root Canals Explained page that walks your step-by-step through the procedure.

Recommended Educational Videos on Root Canal Treatment

Root Canal Treatment Step By Step

Need a root canal? Don't be anxious. This informative video will walk you step-by-step through the procedure and explain how endodontists, the root canal specialists, can save your teeth.

Root Canal Safety

Concerned about the safety of root canal treatment? Watch this informative video to learn how endodontists perform millions of root canal treatments every year, safely, effectively and comfortably.

Visit the AAE YouTube Channel for more patient education videos to learn more about root canals and other endodontic procedures.

Visit the AAE YouTube Channel

How does endodontic treatment save the tooth?

It’s necessary to have endodontic or root canal treatment when the inside of your tooth (the pulp) becomes inflamed or infected as a result of deep decay, repeated dental procedures, faulty crowns or a crack or chip in the tooth. Trauma to your tooth may also cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, in can cause pain or lead to an abscess.

When you undergo a root canal or other endodontic treatment, the inflamed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned and disinfected, then filled and sealed with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Afterwards, the tooth is restored with a crown or filling for protection and will continue to function like any other tooth.

Endodontic treatment helps you maintain your natural smile, continue eating the foods you love and limits the need for ongoing dental work. With proper care, most teeth that have had root canal treatment can last a lifetime.

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