What Is a Root Canal?

Posted on: September 22, 2017


If your dentist has told you that you need a root canal (also called endodontic treatment), your first instinct might be to panic. It sounds like a scary procedure, and there’s a common misconception that endodontic treatment is a type of oral surgery. Stay calm! Having a root canal is not much different from having a filling, as far as the patient is concerned. Read on to find out more about why a root canal is done, what the procedure entails, and what you can expect afterward.

Why You Might Need a Root Canal

The most common reason that someone needs root canal therapy is that decay has gotten into the pulp, or nerve space, of the tooth. Once decay gets into that space, the only way to save the tooth is to perform endodontic therapy.

Sometimes the decay will cause pain, but other times it won’t. If it doesn’t, your dentist might discover it when replacing a filling. Often, however, if the decay doesn’t cause noticeable pain, it will begin to get infected. At this point, you could experience jaw swelling or a tiny pimple, called a fistula, on your gums. This is another indication that a root canal will be necessary.

Your general dentist might perform the procedure, or you might be referred to a root canal specialist, also called an endodontist, depending on how complex your case is.

What a Root Canal Procedure Entails

From your position in the dental chair, a root canal will seem a lot like a typical filling, only it will last longer. From the dentist’s perspective, however, it’s more complex than a typical filling. First, he or she will get you numb. You should not feel anything; root canal pain is not typical during the procedure.

A dental dam will be used, and a suction device will keep your mouth comfortably dry. The dentist will drill a hole in the tooth and use a series of tiny files to clean out the infected or inflamed pulp tissue. Once the canal is clean, he or she will use a slow-speed handpiece, or drill, to widen the canals. Then a material called gutta percha will be used to fill the space left in the root. Finally, a temporary filling will be placed in the hole.

The procedure might take an hour or more, and it might take more than one visit. In some cases, a tooth might be left open, with no filling. This is sometimes done if the pulp has become infected to the point that it needs to drain. Follow your dentist’s instructions for keeping the area clean until you return to have the procedure finished.

What Happens After the Procedure

You might be sore for a couple of days after your root canal. An over-the-counter pain reliever is usually adequate for pain relief. If your dentist has prescribed antibiotics, be sure to take the entire prescription as directed. If you are having pain for more than a few days, if the pain gets worse over time, or if you notice swelling that gets worse, contact your dentist promptly.

A few weeks after your root canal is completed, you will need to return to the office for a permanent restoration. Usually, this takes the form of a crown. Talk to your dentist about what the best option is for you.

If you are having pain or if you suspect that you need a root canal in San Diego, call the University Avenue Dental Group today at 619-582-4224. We can schedule you for a free consultation. There’s no cost or obligation, so you have nothing to lose other than that nagging toothache! Call now.