Root Canal FAQ
If you’ve fallen victim to tooth decay, your dentist may be able to repair the tooth instead of pulling it. Here’s how root canals can help you fix a bad tooth.
What is a Root Canal?
In this ultra-common dental procedure, a dentist removes and cleans out decayed or infected portions of the tooth interior, including the nerve tissue or pulp, and leaves behind the healthy parts of the tooth. The gaps are filled in with a sealant to strengthen the tooth and prevent further infection.
To clean out the affected tooth pulp, your dentist will numb the entire area, then drill a small hole into your tooth. Special files are worked into the hole to help scrub out the damaged areas in the root of the tooth, and water is sprayed into the area to clean out the debris.
Your dentist may fill the hole with a temporary filling for a few days to allow any infection to heal before permanently sealing the tooth, or your dentist may fill the hole immediately.
What is Dental Pulp?
The dental pulp is the softer interior of your tooth, which contains the nerves, blood vessels and the tissue that connects it to your jawline.
What Causes Tooth Decay in the Pulp?
In most cases, the tough tooth enamel keeps plaque and bacteria away from the more sensitive tooth interior. But if your enamel cracks or develops a deep enough cavity, plaque and bacteria can start to eat away at the tooth pulp and create significant decay.
What Will A Root Canal Do to My Tooth?
A root canal will remove any decayed or damaged tooth tissue that could cause serious and even life-threatening infections. Because you’re removing nerve tissue, you may lose sensitivity in that tooth. Thankfully, though, the loss of the nerve tissue won’t make your tooth any less healthy.
Who Needs a Root Canal?
If you’ve had damage to the interior of your tooth — the nerve tissue or pulp — but there is still enough healthy tissue in the tooth, your dentist can use a root canal to remove the damaged material and build a solid, healthy tissue from what’s left.
If you want to reduce your chances of needing a root canal, get brushing. Good dental hygiene and regular dental visits can help you limit the amount of damage and decay in your tooth.
Will a Root Canal Hurt?
Root canals have a bad reputation for being painful, but since the nerve tissues in the affected tooth are often dead, the procedure is generally painless. You may feel some soreness in the area around that tooth after the anesthetic has worn off.
Will I Need Any Follow-Up Procedures?
For basic cases, a simple root canal repairs the tooth and makes it good as new. You may need to visit your dentist twice, though, for the initial dental work and then the follow-up for a filling. But teeth with more extensive damage may require additional work to protect the tooth and strengthen it, such as applying a cap or a crown.
What If I Don’t Want a Root Canal?
If the affected tooth is badly damaged and decayed, your only options are root canal or having the tooth pulled and replaced with a false tooth. Leaving a decayed tooth in your mouth can put you at risk for severe abscesses and infections in your mouth and in the surrounding tissue.
Who Performs a Root Canal?
Most root canals can be successfully completed by your regular dentist, though some patients may choose to visit an endodontist, who specializes in this kind of work — especially if the root canal may be challenging to clean out perfectly. Keep in mind that the endodontist won’t be cheap — and you will likely pay a premium for this specialist's work.
How Much Do Root Canals Cost?
The price of root canals varies, based on whether you have a general dentist or an endodontist do the work, and whether it’s a front tooth or a molar — molars have more root canals and are more expensive. It can range from $350-860, with any additional dental work required (such as a crown to strengthen the damaged tooth) added on to that cost.
How Long Will the Dental Work Last?
While your dentist may not offer a lifetime guarantee, a tooth that’s preserved with a root canal has a strong likelihood of lasting forever, with as long as you continue brushing and flossing daily, and have regular dental visits.