A Guide To Root Canals

A Guide To Root Canals

Published 05/05/2021

Last Reviewed 08/01/2024

A root canal isn't an uncommon dental treatment, yet patients fear it for the several myths associated with it. The first thing that might come in your head when your dentist suggests a the procedure might be - several hours of pain.

The truth is root canals barely take an hour on average and are not painful. In fact, the entire purpose of the treatment is to save your teeth and put you out of pain. Each year millions of people sit for the procedure to restore infected teeth with a 95% success rate!

Read on, and you'll learn all about root canals to lift that unnecessary fear and help you with recovery following the treatment. You'll also learn some practical tips on maintaining oral health and preventing a root canal in the future.

What Is A Root Canal?

The root canal is the area inside the tooth that contains pulp, connective tissues, and blood vessels that help your teeth grow. When the it becomes infected or inflamed, it requires a treatment to remove the infected pulp, clean and disinfect the inside of the teeth before filling and sealing it.

If left untreated, the infection causes pain and turn your teeth black or yellow. It can also spread to the surrounding teeth and other parts of the body.

If you want to skip the root canal and still remove the infection, the alternative is tooth extraction. It can be more painful, and you will lose your natural tooth. At some point, you may need an artificial tooth, implying further treatments and expenses down the road.

What Causes A Root Canal?

Here are some of the causes that damage the soft pulp center of the tooth:

    • Deep decay is caused by a cavity that was left untreated.

    • Cracked or chipped tooth.

    • Repeated dental procedures on the same tooth.

    • An injury to the tooth.

How Do You Know You Need a Root Canal?

So how do you figure out if you need the procedure? There are some common symptoms that suggest you might need a root canal.

Root Canal Symptoms:

    • Cracked or chipped teeth

    • Swelling in the gums

    • Sensitivity to cold and hot foods

    • Pimples on the gums

    • Darkening of the gums

    • Sharp pain when chewing or biting

After a careful examination of the problematic tooth, the dentist will take an X-ray to confirm if your tooth really needs a root canal. After confirming the diagnosis, the dentist will refer you to an endodontist. An endodontist is a specialist who specializes in diagnosing and eliminating tooth pain and performing root canal procedures if necessary. However, any dentist can perform a typical root canal.

What To Expect During A Root Canal Procedure?

If your dentist prescribes a root canal procedure to treat an infected tooth, there's no need to fear. The procedure aims at relieving the existing pain in your tooth, restoring its health, and preventing reinfection. Let's learn how the procedure is performed to help you get rid of your doubts on it.

Here are the steps involved in a typical procedure:

    1. The dentist or endodontist will use a local anesthetic to numb the gums surrounding the infected tooth. You'll feel a slight pinch while being injected with the anesthetic in your gums, but it only lasts for a few seconds.

    1. Next, a small hole will be drilled from the top of your teeth to the center until the pulp is exposed.

    1. Damaged pulp is removed using sterilized tools.

    1. The inside of the tooth is carefully cleaned. The root canal is rinsed several times to clear out the infection.

    1. Antibiotic medication is placed inside to kill off any bacteria that remain. This will prevent any reinfections in the future.

    1. The dentist will then take an X-ray to check if the root canal is completely clean before sealing it.

    1. When the root canal will be completed in a second sitting or if a dental crown is to be placed over it, the dentist will pack the hole with a soft, temporary filling, so the exposed insides of the tooth aren't damaged by saliva or food. If your root canal is to be completed in a single sitting, the root canal specialist will fill the hole with a permanent filling.

    1. If a temporary filling has been placed, the procedure will be completed in the second sitting, and a permanent restoration will be set in place.

    1. You may also need a crown, depending on the condition of the tooth following the procedure. Root canal weakens the tooth, so a crown may be necessary, especially if you've had a root canal on one of the back teeth.

Do Root Canals Hurt?

One of the most popular questions that troubles patients is - does a root canal hurt?

The infection can become quite painful if left untreated. Root canal, on the other hand, isn’t painful. Though you’ll experience slight discomfort, as you would with a simple dental filling, pain of the root canal procedure isn’t a something you should worry about.

Before beginning, the dentist will numb the entire area with a local anesthetic. Though you'll be conscious during the procedure, you won't feel any pain. The effects of the anesthetic will wear off soon after the procedure, and you might feel some discomfort then, but it can easily be managed by over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen or Advil.

The discomfort you’ll feel during or after the procedure is very low as compared to the pain that comes from the infection if you avoid the treatment.

How Long Does A Root Canal Take?

The duration of a root canal depends on the extent of the infection and the number of roots that the tooth has. On average, it can take one or two sittings to complete a procedure, where each sitting can take between 45 to 90 minutes on average.

The length of time taken differs with the type of teeth. Canines and incisors have a single root, so a root canal procedure on one of these takes about 45 minutes or an hour at the most. However, this duration does not include the time taken to get a crown if it's needed.

Premolars, located behind your canines but before your molars, have one or two roots, and having a root canal on one of these can take around an hour or a little more depending on the tooth structure and the extent of infection.

Molars are present at the back of your mouth and take the longest to get a root canal done. Each molar can have up to 4 roots, and it can take up to 90 minutes or more to have a molar root canal.

Why Do You Sometimes Have To Return For A Second Appointment?

Now that you know how long it takes, another question that might bother you is why you might have to return for a second appointment. Sometimes, root canal treatment completes in a single appointment. However, there are some conditions in which the dentist will schedule a second appointment to complete the procedure. The number of sittings depends on the tooth condition and the time required to remove the infection and cleanse the cavity.

During the first visit, the dentist will carefully remove the infected tissue and cover the area with antibacterial medication. The pain from the infected tooth will no longer be felt after this visit.

The second appointment focuses on cleaning the inside of your tooth and sealing it with a rubber-like material. The dentist will then place a permanent filling to cover the hole. Sometimes, a crown will also be put in place.

Root Canal Recovery Time

Once the anesthetic wears out, it's usual to experience mild pain after a root canal, which can be treated with over-the-counter drugs. Good oral hygiene speeds up the recovery. You can also expect some swelling of the gums around the treated tooth.

Typically, discomfort and sensitivity last for three days. During this time, ibuprofen can help relieve the discomfort, the pain should subside in two to three days.

However, if you still feel pain after a root canal for four to five days, you should contact your dentist. A follow-up appointment is important in this case so your root canal specialist can observe if the tooth is healing optimally.

Oral Care After Root Canal

You'll need to be especially careful if your tooth has been packed with temporary filling after the first sitting and you are waiting for a second appointment to get a permanent filling or install a crown. You might have to wait a week or two between the two root canal appointments.

Good oral hygiene is very important between the two root canal appointments and also afterward. After brushing your teeth twice a day with AO ProToothpaste – Sensitive, also rinse your mouth with AO ProRinse – Sensitive to deliver powerful antioxidants to your oral cavity and soothe sensitive tissues.

What Can You Eat After a Root Canal?

During this time, avoid biting on hard foods. Only consume soft foods and rinse your mouth with lukewarm water after eating anything. This will help to avoid any food particles from making their way into the cavity.

Hard foods should be avoided for a few days following the procedure since even a permanent filling needs some time to settle down and heal. Too much pressure on a recent permanent filling can even break it.

How To Prevent Root Canal In First Place?

Proper care of your teeth help in preventing need for a root canal, together with other expensive and time-consuming procedures. Once you've had a root canal, you'll naturally want to protect yourself from any further endodontic procedures. Though it's not painful, sitting on the dental chair for an hour isn't something you'll want to do willingly.

With good oral hygiene, it’s possible to prevent further root canals. Here are some practices that can help maintain strong and healthy teeth and prevent dental treatments:

    1. Brush your teeth twice every day and floss at least once a day.

    1. Use a good antioxidant toothpaste, such as AO ProToothpaste – White Care to fight cavities, remove stains and promote your teeth defenses against diseases and boost a healthy oral environment.

    1. Visit your dentist at least once every 6 months for a check-up.  This is so that any problems can be diagnosed at an early stage and treated with simple procedures.

    1. Avoid chewing hard foods or candies, especially if you've recently had a dental procedure.

    1. Acidic foods and drinks should be avoided since they can dissolve away your enamel. Rinse your mouth with AO ProRinse – White Care after consuming acidic foods to cleanse your mouth and spread antioxidants and essential oils inside your oral cavity that help that wash away acids from such foods.

    1. Avoid consuming sugary liquids and foods.

    1. If you experience any tooth pain or discomfort, set an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Delaying a diagnosis can worsen the problem.


Now that you know all about root canals, it shouldn't seem like the scariest thing in the world. Remember that you have it to treat the pain - not to cause further pain. Once you've had the root canal, the throbbing pain of the infected tooth will be treated permanently. You'll be able to use the tooth normally for the rest of your life. Provided you take good care of it. Maintain good oral hygiene, and don't skip brushing or flossing to enjoy your treated tooth and prevent any more root canals. Remember to see your dentist twice a year. And make sure to use dentist recommended PerioSciences products for your at home oral hygiene routine.