Root Canals: The Ultimate Guide

Gentle Dental

infographic stages of root canal treatment vector

Teeth can suffer damage from many different causes, including gum disease, untreated cavities, and accidental injuries. While there are many ways of treating these issues,  surgical intervention is sometimes necessary. In most cases, the procedure needed to address the damage, and save the tooth, is a root canal.

While root canals are extremely safe, effective, and straightforward, they are often not well understood.  That’s why we put together this root canal guide that helps explain the procedure, why it’s done, how it works.

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a dental procedure that removes a tooth’s (pulp) while preserving the tooth itself. A root canal provides an alternative to the extraction of severely damaged, infected, or decayed tooth. In most cases,  a root canal is an outpatient procedure and will not require general anesthesia, time off work, or an extended recovery period.

When do you Need a Root Canal?

When your tooth’s pulp is damaged or infected, either as the result of tooth decay, gum disease, or a tooth injury, it becomes inflamed and painful.  When it is no longer possible to use more conservative treatments, you may be presented with the options of either having the tooth pulled or undergoing a root canal.

While extraction may sound straightforward, it also has its drawbacks. Even if the extracted tooth is at the back of your mouth, where its absence won’t be noticed by others, you may still have difficulty with chewing food, and there is always the risk that your remaining teeth might start to drift into the space left by the extracted tooth. This can cause serious bite and alignment problems, so your dentist will probably recommend a dental implant or denture, both of which can be costly.

A root canal can save your tooth, avoiding the complications and expense of extraction and then eventually having to get fitted for a denture or undergo an implant procedure. If you are unsure about which option is best for you, talk with your dentist who can break down your options and give you a review of any costs involved.

How are Root Canals Done?

The procedure is a straightforward one: After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, your dentist, oral surgeon, or endodontist will drill a small hole in the tooth. He or she will then remove the pulp, shape the tooth’s interior, and then pack it with an inert material. A temporary crown seals your tooth to protect it. After the root canal, you’ll need to see your own dentist to have a permanent crown placed on the tooth. In rare cases, you may not need a crown, but only a filling.

Who Normally Performs Root Canals?

While any licensed dentist can perform a root canal, many will refer you to a specialist: Either an oral surgeon or an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in the care and treatment of the dental pulp. There is some evidence that root canals performed by specialists have a lower failure rate than those performed by general dentists.

How Long do Root Canals Last?

In most cases, your tooth will last as long as any of your other teeth. Occasionally, a treated tooth may become painful or even infected. If this happens, it may be possible to re-treat the tooth to address any problems. If issues persist, you can talk to your dentist about other options, including extraction followed by a dental implant.

Do Root Canals Hurt?

You’ve probably heard jokes about root canals and how they can be unpleasant experiences. However, modern dental techniques minimize discomfort and most patients can resume normal activities shortly after the procedure. While you may have some discomfort after the procedure, you should be able to treat it with an over-the-counter painkiller or, if necessary, a medication prescribed by your dental professional.

If you have anxiety around dental procedures and are nervous about experiencing pain, you should speak to the dental professional who will be performing your root canal. He or she may be able to provide you with options for anesthesia or pain relief so that you can comfortably undergo the procedure.

When Are Root Canals Not Appropriate?

Not everyone is a candidate for root canal treatment. In some cases, a tooth may be so severely damaged or decayed that it is impossible to save it, even with specialist care. If the root is infected, it may be necessary for an oral surgeon or endodontist to perform an apicoectomy, a procedure that removes the tip of a tooth’s root as well as any infected tissue, before the tooth can be restored.

What is the Cost of a Root Canal?

As with most medical and dental procedures, the cost of a root canal depends on multiple factors, including the complexity of your case. Costs can be between $300 and $1,000 for the root canal itself, then another $500 to $3000 for a crown. Dental insurance can reduce your out-of-pocket costs significantly.

Final Word

Only a dentist can tell you whether you need root canal treatment. If you haven’t seen a dentist in awhile, call your neighborhood Gentle Dental office and make an appointment. We offer day, evening, and weekend hours at most locations for your convenience.  Many of our practices have oral surgeons or endodontists on staff so that you can treat all of your oral health concerns in one place.

We are committed to providing you the gentlest of dental care. This includes offering options that are gentle on your wallet so that you can get the services that you need. We accept most major dental insurance plans, credit cards, discount plans, and also offer financing options. Our staff is also experienced in working with insurance companies and maximizing your benefits. Call today for more information.