Root canals
A young woman having dental work performed on her teeth.

If you’re worried about getting a root canal, don’t be. It’s a common dental procedure that’s done more than 15 million times a year, according to the American Association of Endodontics.

When will I need a root canal?

Your tooth has two parts: The crown, which is above the gum line, and the root, which is below it. In the center of your tooth, the pulp is a collection of blood vessels, nerves, and tissue that supports the surrounding dentin, the tissue under the tooth’s enamel. The pulp can become infected due to trauma, decay, cracks or chips, or repeated dental procedures. Symptoms include:

  • Noticeable damage to the tooth
  • Pain in the tooth and gums
  • Pain to biting
  • A lesion on the gum tissue known as a fistula and commonly called a gum boil
  • Swelling
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks
  • Pus around a tooth
  • A loose tooth

A root canal can save your tooth and prevent the need for a dental implant or bridge. After the infection is removed, your tooth can survive without the pulp. A root canal can relieve your pain and make your tooth healthy again.

What happens during a root canal?

In a nonsurgical procedure, the area is numbed with a local anesthetic. Your dentist removes the injured pulp and cleans and seals the root canal system. The procedure is completed in one or two visits. Root canals are 90% successful and cost much less than replacing your damaged tooth with an artificial tooth.

After the procedure

You can drive home after a root canal and return to your regular activities. Your tooth will be sore, so you’ll need to chew on the other side of your mouth until you heal. You can use over-the-counter medications to treat the pain.

A filling or crown is needed after a root canal to complete and protect the tooth. When finished, your tooth will look and feel normal. It may even look better than it did before the root canal. However, you may still feel some soreness for several weeks or months after a root canal is completed.

A root canal can not only spare you from experiencing a lot more pain in your mouth and wallet down the road, it will also improve your dental health.