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Root Canals

Root Canals

A root canal is a dental procedure used to repair decay and infection that has reached a tooth's nerve. It consists of removing the pulp chamber of the tooth and filling it with a suitable filling material.

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A tooth has a soft core called dental pulp that extends from the tooth's crown to the tip of the tooth's root in the jawbone.  The pulp has nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue.  When a tooth is cracked or has a deep cavity, bacteria and decaying materials can enter the pulp..  If not treated properly, this can cause a serious infection or a tooth abscess leading to pulp death, bone loss and possibly the loss of the tooth itself.

Swelling around the face and neck; a hole in a tooth; toothache or tooth pain; gum swelling; and temperature sensitivity are common signs that a patient needs a root canal.

Root canal alternatives include extracting the damaged tooth and replacing it with a dental implant, bridge or removable partial denture.

The treatment

An endodontist or a general dentist can perform a root canal. It usually takes one to three dentist visits:

The First Visit

A dentist will take dental X-rays to check the extent of the infection or damage. Then, he or she will apply local anesthetic to the tooth root, set a dental dam (rubberlike sheet) placed in the mouth to keep the tooth, clean and saliva free. The dentist then removes the infection or diseased pulp using small dental instruments by making an opening through the crown of the tooth to access the pulp chamber.


After the diseased pulp is removed, the dentist flushes and cleans the pulp chamber and root canals. He or she may reshape and enlarge the root canals to allow better access for filling later.

Disinfecting & Drying

Sometimes medication is required inside the pulp chamber and root canal to clear the infection. The tooth may be left open to drain for several days. Other times if the infection has spread beyond the tooth, patients may need antibiotics. For multiple visits, the dentist will do a temporary filling in the crown to protect the tooth and keep out debris and saliva. Patients should avoid biting or chewing on the tooth until it has been treated and restored.


After cleaning and drying, the dentist will fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals. He or she will remove the temporary filling –if any – to allow access to the inside of the tooth. Then, he or she will apply a sealer paste and rubber compound to fill the tooth, followed by an adhesive filling to make sure the root canals are protected from saliva.

Restoring the Tooth

A crown is usually mounted on the tooth treated with the root canal to protect the tooth from future damage and return to normal function.


Patients should chew normally and look cosmetically pleasing after the root canal. The tooth is likely to last a lifetime with a good dental and oral hygiene habits. The tooth may be sensitive after the first few days of the root canal. Patients may opt to get over the counter medication to ease the pain. It is recommended to contact a dentist or endodontist if the pain or pressure lasts more than a few days.

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