Root Canals

Some people say root canals are painless, while others say they hurt like crazy. What’s the truth?
If I have a root canal, will I need a crown, too?
How many office visits will it take to complete a root canal?

Some people say root canals are painless, while others say they hurt like crazy. What’s the truth?

Most often, the pain associated with root canal procedures is due to an infection that causes the root canal to be needed in the first place.  During the procedure, since you’re numb when a root canal is performed, you probably won’t feel anything. Most people (about 75 percent) experience no discomfort after this procedure. The discomfort experienced by the remaining 25 percent is usually caused by the infection that made the root canal necessary, not by the root canal. You should receive medication to stop the infection and relieve any associated discomfort.  In most cases, the root canal does more to relieve pain that causing it in the first place!

If I have a root canal, will I need a crown, too?

Once the pulp of a tooth is removed, the remaining tooth structure is brittle and easily fractured. You will probably need a crown to protect the underlying tooth which is weak because the center of the tooth was removed to get at the infected nerve; only the sides of the tooth are left for support.  And it is more brittle because the nerve and blood supply are gone.  There is a tremendous amount of force on the edges of the teeth when they bite together, so it’s likely that this tooth will break.  After a tooth breaks, it is much more difficult to repair. A crown covers and protects a root canal treated tooth and helps to prevent it from breaking and causing less manageable issues.

Click here to learn how a crown is placed after root canal therapy.

How many office visits will it take to complete a root canal?

It depends on the location of the tooth, the number of root canals in the tooth, and how much infection is present. Root canal therapy generally takes between one and three appointments to complete. Since most root canals require the placement of a crown, you may need one or two more additional visits to have the crown fitted.

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How Do I Know if I Need a Root Canal?

When the nerve of a tooth becomes infected, root canal treatment can save the tooth. How do you know if you have an infected tooth? Some of the signs are heat and cold sensitivity, swelling and pain, or a bad taste in your mouth. Or, you may experience no symptoms at all and not realize that you have a dental problem.

The white outside portion of a tooth is called the enamel. Inside the enamel is another hard layer, the dentin. There’s a small chamber at the center of the dentin called the pulp chamber. Inside the pulp chamber is the tooth pulp, a soft tissue made up of nerves and blood vessels. The pulp extends from the pulp chamber all the way to the tip of the root through a narrow channel called the root canal.

In general, teeth in the front of the mouth have only one root canal, while teeth in the back have two, three or four root canals.

How do teeth become infected?

Deep cavities allow germs to get into the pulp chamber. These germs cause infection, and the pulp dies. The pus from the infection eventually builds up at the root tip and makes a hole in the bone. This is called an abscess.

A blow to a tooth may also cause the pulp to die and then become infected. An infected tooth will never heal on its own, and as it gets worse, it will continue to be a source of infection that weakens your immune system. This can affect your entire body. This damage to the bone and the swelling inside the bone can also be excruciatingly painful, and even life-threatening. Years ago, an infected tooth would have to be extracted, but today, we can save your tooth with root canal treatment.