The Complete Guide To Root Canals


Nerves, blood vessels and tissues are at the heart of every tooth, regardless of how big or small. The tooth is made up of enamel (outer layer), dentin (middle layer), pulp chamber (inside the tooth) and the root canals (along the pulp chambers). When a tooth begins to decay or become infection, the different sections of the tooth begin to deteriorate. When the pulp begins to decay or becomes infected, the root canals become affected. In order to save the tooth from further decay, a root canal procedure is important. An endodontist is a root canal specialist that can take charge of a root canal problem.  


If you are not a trained dentist, the likelihood that you will know if you need a root canal or not is slim. It is not always black and white when it comes to a root canal. There are many signs that can indicate you may need a root canal. For example, if one has serious tooth pain when eating this can be an indication of a root canal. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all when it comes to a root canal. Other symptoms of a root canal include: 

  • Pressure on a tooth or teeth 
  • Infection of the gum  
  • Mouth Injury 
  • Discoloration of the tooth 
  • Changes in tissues 
  • Pain when eating, chewing or drinking  
  • Swelling around or in the gums 
  • Tenderness around the gums, teeth or mouth 
  • Sensitivity to different temperatures such as hot and cold 


If a dentist tells their patient they will need a root canal, that patient usually has one of the following causes: 

  • Disease: Gum disease is one of the leading factors that has warranted visits to the dentist office. Reoccurring gum disease can be indefinitely treated by osseous surgery. However, if gum disease has not yet reached that level of severity, a root canal procedure might help. Aside from gum disease, infections and trauma to the tooth can cause a root canal procedure to occur. Infections from previous dental work or surgeries may increase the risk of developing a disease that requires a root canal.  
  • Decay: Tooth decay can seep into the outermost layers of the tooth and cause extreme pain. Tooth decay can occur at any age and it is not limited to gender, race or ethnicity. Tooth decay is better known as cavities. Most likely, you are bond to have one or two cavities lingering in your mouth. No need to worry about it now but these tooth decays might result in the need for a root canal.  
  • Damage: Along with tooth decay, cracks and chips in the teeth can pain. Any minor chip or crack may seem insignificant in the moment but it can cause serious consequences if not cured properly. Damage can come from accidents, falling down, biting on hard or non-edible objects.  


The first true step to getting a root canal procedure is getting an x-ray. Once the x-rays are reviewed by the dentist, then local anesthesia can be administered. Once the area is completely numb, a “dental dam” is placed over the mouth to protect the other parts of the mouth and teeth. After this step, the crown of the tooth is opened up and a small tool is used to clean the pulp that lies inside the pulp chamber. This is done to ensure that there is room for the filling. This stage is important because the dentist makes sure that the area is completely clean to prevent infections. Once the area is cleaned and shaped to the right shape the root canals can be filled. The biocompatible material is used to fill the area, this material is a rubber like substance that is called gutta percha. Once the canals are filled up, they can be closed off by cement.  For most adults, they will need to return back to the dentist’s office to finish off the root canal procedure with a crown or some other type or restoration. This helps the tooth function properly, just like a natural tooth would do. After the procedure is completed x-rays are retaken to ensure that the root canal procedure went out without a hitch.

How Long Is the Procedure? 

From start to finish a root canal can include more than one visit to the dentist. Most dentists prefer to complete a root canal procedure within two appointments. Cleaning and shaping the affected area are usually the basis for the first appointment. Following a period of 1 to 3 weeks, a second appointment is needed to complete the root canal procedure. Depending on the cause of the root canal issue and location, the entire process between both appointments can be concluded with 1 to 2.5 hours. The amount of time it takes to complete a root canal procedure can also depend on how many canals need to be filled. This time frame can also differ depending on the type of dentist. An endodontist is someone who specializes in root canal and can usually get the job done in less time than a regular dentist.

Does it hurt? 

People are also told that getting a root canal procedure will hurt! Well, the real truth is that it is not very painful. Most people will admit that they feel more pain prior to the procedure than after. The actual procedure does not hurt because the local anesthesia numbs the affected area. After the numbness wears off the pain slowly starts to increase but it is usually tolerable. Most dentists will prescribe medication for the pain but over-the-counter pain medications will work just fine. If one is afraid to feel pain before or after a root canal procedure, it is better to get it done sooner rather than later.  

Root Canal Infection  

A root canal can become infected for various reasons. The most common symptom of a root canal infection is pain. Pain after a root canal is normal but if one is suffering from pain for an extended period of time, this can be linked to an infection. With that being stated, pain is not the only symptom of an infection. Another symptom of a root canal infection is swelling. Just like pain, swelling is normal after a root canal. However, it is not normal to have so much swelling that one cannot open their mouth, speak, make faces or move their jaw. This type of swelling is sure to cause pain and inflammation. Inflammation is yet another symptom associated with root canal infection. Pressure as well as heat are common factors associated with prolonged with inflammation from infection. Gum sensitivity can be a sign of root canal infection. Swollen gums may indicate that there is an infection lying beneath the surface. Nerve damage is one of the possible complications followed by gum sensitivity not treated after a root canal infection. It is unnerving to think that a simple infection can cause tooth to become brittle and decay. If a person let a root canal infection develop, overtime it can lead to fragile teeth that can break. A root canal infection is usually caused by bacteria. However, not all of these types of infections are from bacteria. The risk of using an unlicensed dentist to do a root canal procedure is they may not properly sterilize their tools. A possible infection from a non-sterilized tool is rare but possible.  Infection can occur if the tooth, root or affected area was not properly cleaned and free of bacteria. Root canal infections are usually treated with antibiotics.  


Getting a tooth fixed is never a cheap procedure. Some insurance companies will pay for a portion of dental work, but this depends of the type of procedure and insurance company. Root canal procedures is one of many dental procedures that is paid mostly out of pocket. The cost of a root canal can differ depending on the tooth that is need of repairing. Typical cost of a front tooth root canal can range from $300-$1,500. The average price for a root canal in the mid-mouth can range from $400-$1,800. Back molar root canals have an average price tag of roughly $500-$2,000. It may seem strange that the further the location of the teeth that need fixing, the higher the price becomes. These price tags usually include: x-rays, a complete root canal, additional dental check-ups. These costs are only rough estimates and not to be taken at face value. Prices can vary depending on the extent of damage of the tooth, the location of the dentist’s office, and the day of the week. Discounts are rarely given at the dentist’s office but one can research their state’s laws and dental clinics for a low-cost dental clinic.  


At least 90-95% of root canal procedures are successfully. Unfortunately, there is always a small percentage that results in complications. Every patient and case are different and end up with varied results. Similar to root canal infections, a failed root canal can cause infection, swelling, tenderness ad pain. X-rays are the most accurate way to tell if a root canal was successfully completed.  A failed root canal can be caused by a crack in the root of the tooth, fractures in the tooth, problems with the gum or roots, the development of a new root canal or excess damage. One complication from a root canal procedure is that dental tools may accidentally break off inside one of the canals. This idea may be a little farfetched, but it has known to have happened on occasion. If someone is suffering from a sinus infection or congestion after a root canal procedure, this may be a result from inflammation of the teeth roots.

During a root canal, the chances that a tooth will die is slim, but it can happen. Another rare complication from a root canal procedure is severe numbness that lasts long after the procedure. This should not be very alarming as the numbness will gradually go away after a couple of weeks. An allergic reaction to the anesthesia used during the root canal can cause issues with the procedure. It should appear obvious to those who have had problems with anesthesia in the past that they inform their dentist prior to the procedure. Narrow root canals may make it harder for proper disinfection to occur. All of these complications are rare but can happen. It is important to talk to your dentist prior to the root canal procedure to ensure everything goes smooth sailing.  

Root canals On Kids Vs. Adults 

One may ask themselves, is it normal for a child to go through the pain of a root canal? The answer should be simple, but it can depend on the dental history of the child and the dentist, as well as the parent. Children and toddlers with and without permanent teeth may require a root canal. To start, children with permanent teeth have their teeth in place and they should remain for the rest of their lives. It is important for a child with permanent teeth to treat a root canal in order to prevent infection and future damage to the teeth. A child may complain or a toothache, tooth sensitivity or appear to have a broken tooth. All of these symptoms warrant a trip to the dentist’s office. Even a child with baby teeth might require a root canal procedure. During a root canal procedure for a child, a dentist will use a rubber spacer to separate the affected area from the rest of the teeth. Since children teeth are smaller than adults, smaller instruments are needed during a root canal. Using adult size instruments may cause complications or improper treatment of the root canal. During the root canal, the dentist will ensure that all the diseased tissues is removed and the area is cleaned. A filling will then be added to the empty space and sealed off. This filler is usually made of biocompatible material as a way for it to natural absorb. This allows new teeth to grow in successfully. One major difference between a root canal on adults and kids is that a small opening is made at the top of the tooth for adults and this is not done for kids. Root canals are done on baby teeth to successfully save the permanent tooth. A local anesthesia is also used on kids when doing a root canal procedure. Root canals typically heal faster in children than adults. Depending on the extent of an adult’s tooth issue, a root canal procedure may take 1 or more appointments while a kid’s procedure is done at one time. A root canal for adults typically ends in a crown, but a kid’s root canal usually does not.