Sometimes bacteria enters the pulp of a tooth and causes an infection. When this occurs, root canal therapy is necessary to save the tooth. During this procedure, the infected pulp is removed and the tooth is sealed to prevent reinfection.
Root canal treatment is a dental procedure that relieves pain caused by an infected or abscessed tooth. During the root canal process, the inflamed pulp is removed. The surfaces inside the tooth are then cleaned and disinfected, and a filling is placed to seal the space.
Root canal therapy is necessary when oral bacteria invade the pulp inside of your tooth. This usually happens when a cavity is left untreated for a long time. It can also occur if your tooth becomes cracked or damaged due to trauma.
In some cases, you may not know you have an infected tooth. However, many people notice certain symptoms. Signs you need a root canal include:
According to the American Association of Endodontists, over 41,000 root canals are performed in the United States every day. That means that more than 15 million root canals are completed each year.
Before beginning your root canal, your healthcare provider can answer any questions you have about the procedure. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for your root canal treatment:
Depending on the amount of infection in your tooth, root canal therapy may require one or two appointments. On average, a root canal takes about 30 to 60 minutes to complete. If you are having treatment on a larger tooth with multiple roots, it can take up to an hour and a half.
Before beginning your root canal, your healthcare provider will take dental X-rays of the affected tooth. This helps determine the extent of damage and ensures that root canal therapy is the appropriate treatment option. Here are the steps that will be completed during your root canal procedure:
Many people are afraid they’ll have tooth pain after root canal therapy. However, because the source of infection is removed during the procedure, most people find immediate relief following treatment. If you are experiencing throbbing pain after a root canal, call your healthcare provider right away.
While you shouldn’t have significant pain after a root canal, you may notice sensitivity for the first few days. These symptoms are normal and can be successfully managed with prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers. In most instances, side effects lessen within one to two weeks.
Root canal treatment is completed by a general dentist or an endodontist (a root canal specialist). General dentists can often treat teeth near the front of the mouth since they have fewer roots. If you need root canal therapy on a tooth with multiple roots — or if your case is complex — then you may be referred to an endodontist.
There are several benefits to choosing root canal therapy. This treatment can:
Root canals are considered safe and effective. This procedure boasts impressive success rates of up to 98%.
Root canal complications can occur in some cases. This is especially true if your tooth is too damaged for this type of treatment. Failed root canal symptoms include:
If your root canal fails, your healthcare provider will explore your options with you. In some cases, root canal retreatment may be possible. Or, it may be time to discuss alternative procedures.
The only alternative to root canal therapy is tooth removal. Even though it’s best to save natural teeth whenever possible, extraction may be necessary to preserve your oral health.
If you’re not a good candidate for root canal treatment, the tooth can be extracted and replaced with a dental implant, dental bridge or partial. To learn more about root canal vs extraction, call your healthcare provider.
Typically, root canal recovery time lasts less than a week. Mild discomfort may be present for a few days, but this can be managed with medication. If you have severe pain or discomfort that lasts longer than a week, call your healthcare provider.
Yes. However, it’s best to wait until the numbness wears off. The effects of the anesthesia usually last a few hours.
Stick with softer foods like pastas, mashed potatoes and yogurts for the first couple of days. Introduce solid food as your comfort level improves.
You should also steer clear of biting or chewing with the treated tooth. Try to chew on the other side of your mouth until your permanent dental restoration is in place.
It depends. If you had local anesthesia or nitrous oxide during your procedure, then you can drive yourself to and from your appointment. People who choose oral sedation or IV sedation will need a friend or family member to drive them.
It isn’t recommended. Smoking interferes with healing and increases the likelihood that you’ll need more dental work in the future.
Most of the time, people who have had root canal therapy can go back to work or school the next day. However, if you’ve had sedation during your dental procedure, you may need an extra day or two to fully recover.
After root canal treatment, it’s important to keep the area clean. Brush and floss normally, and use an antibacterial mouthwash to keep germs at bay. If you still have a temporary filling placed and haven’t received your permanent crown yet, avoid chewing on the treated tooth until the crown is in place.
As with all dental procedures, results are not guaranteed. However, when root canal therapy is performed correctly, results can last a long time — even the rest of your life.
If you notice any root canal symptoms, such as tooth pain, swelling, bad taste or other warning signs, call your healthcare provider immediately. The sooner you treat an infected tooth, the better chance you have of saving it.
Routine dental check-ups also play a large role in reducing the risk of infection. During these visits, your healthcare provider can detect problems early on, before they worsen.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Experiencing tooth pain or swelling in the jaw can be scary. Fortunately, root canal therapy can remove infection at its source so you can feel better quickly. If you suspect that you have an infected or abscessed tooth, call your healthcare provider right away. Prompt treatment can prevent infection from spreading and relieve your pain so you can get back to normal life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/07/2021.
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