What Is A Root Canal? A Step-By-Step Guide


Although they might seem like scary and complicated treatments, root canals have come a long way since their creation. In fact, with modern techniques and technology, root canals have evolved into relatively comfortable treatments that often require no more than one or two trips to the dentist or endodontist. If your dentist has recommended a root canal treatment, here is a step-by-step guide of what you can expect before, during, and after the procedure.

When Is Root Canal Treatment Needed?

As the National Institutes of Health puts it, a dentist performs a root canal to remove bacteria and dying or dead tissue from inside the tooth. The pulp inside of the tooth can become infected with bacteria because of an injury or a severe, untreated cavity. Without treatment, the infection can cause pain and can worsen, sometimes making it necessary for your dentist to remove the tooth. A root canal treatment might be just what you need to get your smile back on track.

How a Root Canal is Performed: Step by Step

As the American Association of Endodontists points out, a root canal is essentially a four-step process. Treatment usually takes two office visits.

  1. First, the dentist administers local anesthesia to numb the tooth and surrounding gums. You’ll feel a bit of a pinch when the needle is injected, but only for a moment. After that, you won’t be able to feel anything. When the tooth is numb, the endodontist might place a dental dam, a small sheet of rubber that isolates the tooth to keep it clean and dry during the procedure.
  2. Your dentist will then use very small tools, such as a small drill, to access the inside of the tooth by creating an opening in the top portion of the tooth. Next, the dentist will use small files to clear away the damaged pulp from the inside of the tooth. He or she will also use the files to shape the inner chamber of the tooth and root and might irrigate the chamber with water to make sure there isn’t any infected pulp hiding out. Your dentist might also use an antimicrobial solution to kill any remaining bacteria in the chamber and reduce the risk for further infection.
  3. Once the chamber is thoroughly cleaned and dried, the endodontist will fill it with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Then your dentist will close the opening in your tooth with a temporary filling while you wait for the permanent crown.
  4. After a few weeks, your dentist will finish the treatment by placing a permanent crown or a similar type of restoration on the top of the tooth. Depending on the condition of your natural tooth, the dentist may need to place a small supporting post inside of the root chamber, to make the crown or restoration more stable.

After the Procedure

Taking good care of your teeth and gums is a must after a root canal. Make sure to maintain a good oral care routine at home by brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and keeping up with your twice-yearly dental cleanings and exams. You might need to schedule an additional visit with your dentist to X-ray the treated tooth and make sure that all signs of infection are gone. With excellent care and attention, a tooth treated with a root canal can stay healthy for the rest of your life. That sounds like a great incentive to keep your smile healthy!

A root canal can seem daunting at first, and the stories you hear don’t help the matter. But the truth is that a root canal isn’t all as painful as you might think, and it can often be the best option for a pain-free smile long-term.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for Care After a ROOT CANAL

A treated and restored tooth can last a lifetime with proper care. Root canals have a high success rate. Here are a few ways to take care of your teeth after a root canal:

  • Practice good oral hygiene – brush teeth twice a day, and floss at least once. Taking care of your teeth can help prevent future problems.

  • Visit the dentist regularly – cleanings and examinations by dentists and hygienists.

  • Avoid chewing on hard foods – chewing on hard foods such as ice can cause teeth to break, and can harm root canals.