What Does a Root Canal Entail: Dental Procedure Explained

Mar 29, 2021 | General Dentistry, Root Canal

What Does a Root Canal Entail: Dental Procedure Explained

If you are suffering from dental pain or dental trauma, it can be difficult to know what treatment you need. In some cases, improving your dental hygiene is often enough to reverse dental concerns and improve your dental health. However, if left untreated, tooth decay, dental pain, or other dental concerns can require specialized care, such as root canal treatment, in order to save the tooth. According to the American Association of Endodontists, over 25 million Americans have root canal treatment each year. At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we are here to answer your root canal questions and put your mind at ease.

Key Takeaways

  • A root canal is a dental procedure that involves removing the pulp inside a tooth due to decay or trauma.
  • Root canal treatment is necessary when there is pulp damage or disease caused by untreated dental decay, decay under a filling, tooth trauma, bruxism (teeth grinding), or cracks in the teeth.
  • Signs and symptoms that may indicate the need for a root canal include severe pain, abscess, fistula on the gums, hot and cold sensitivity, and gum swelling/discoloration.
  • Untreated dental infections can spread to the jaw, head, or neck, and can even lead to life-threatening conditions like sepsis.
  • The root canal process involves dental x-rays, local anesthesia, removal of pulp and infected tissue, cleaning and filling of canals, and placement of a crown to restore the tooth’s appearance and function.



What is a root canal?

A root canal is a procedure that involves removing the pulp within a tooth. This pulp is what feeds your tooth and is found in canals throughout the inside of the tooth. The pulp contains nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels. When a tooth becomes damaged due to decay or trauma, oftentimes, the pulp becomes injured, inflamed, or infected. When this occurs, removing this damaged pulp is the best way to help preserve your tooth. Once an endodontist removes the infected pulp, the tooth is filled — similar to a filling — and a crown is put in place.


When is root canal treatment necessary?

Knowing if you need a simple treatment or a root canal is something only your dentist will be able to tell you. However, if you have pulp damage or disease, a root canal procedure will be necessary to save your tooth. Some top causes of tooth pulp damage and disease include:
Extensive, untreated dental decay – Untreated dental decay leads to cavities. If left untreated, these cavities eventually reach the pulp, often causing extreme dental pain. When this decay reaches the root of the tooth, a root canal procedure is necessary.

  • Decay underneath a previous filling – Most of the time, the seal between a filling and tooth enamel breaks down. When this occurs, food and bacteria can become trapped underneath the filling. When this happens, bacteria begin to decay the tooth further, often reaching the pulp.
  • Tooth trauma – Dental trauma that cracks or breaks the tooth and exposes the pulp allows bacteria in the mouth to enter the tooth, often requiring a root canal procedure to save the tooth.
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding) – Regular teeth grinding wears down the enamel, making your teeth weak. If left untreated, this weakness can cause a tooth to crack and expose the pulp.
  • Cracks in the teeth – Untreated cracks in the teeth can allow bacteria to enter and infect the tooth’s pulp.


Signs and symptoms to look out for

While your endodontist will determine if a root canal is necessary, some signs and symptoms are likely to indicate the need for the procedure. If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, it is important to let your dentist know immediately. These signs may include:

  • Severe pain – You should mention any dental pain to your dentist as soon as possible.
  • Presence of abscess – Abscess is a collection of pus within under the tissue. The presence of abscess indicates infection. An abscess can result in severe pain, teeth sensitivity, facial swelling, gum swelling, fever, and a foul taste or smell in your mouth. In severe cases, you can experience difficulty breathing.
  • Fistula on the gums – These small bumps occur on the gum around an infected tooth. These occur when pus and bacteria from within the canal find a way out to the surface.
  • Hot and cold sensitivity – Many dental concerns can lead to teeth sensitivity, but if you need a root canal, this sensitivity often lingers long after exposure.
  • Gum swelling and/or discoloration – An infected tooth can often lead to gum swelling or discoloration as the infection progresses.


Health risks if left untreated

A dental infection is a serious concern and will not go away on its own. If left untreated, an infection can spread from your tooth into your jaw, head, or neck. In severe cases, you can develop sepsis as the infection spreads throughout the body. This can be a life-threatening condition. Should you experience any of the signs and symptoms of a tooth infection, notify your dentist immediately and seek treatment.


Doctor points to filled root canal in dental x-ray


Root canal process

The procedure begins with dental x-ray allowing the endodontist to get a clear picture of the tooth and the root canals. At this point, you receive a local anesthetic to numb the affected tooth and surrounding gum. The endodontist then opens the tooth through the crown, exposing the pulp. Using specialized tools, they remove all the pulp and infected tissue. Once removed, the endodontist will clean and enlarge the tooth’s dental canals, preparing it for filling material. The duration depends on how many canals the tooth has. For example, a front incisor usually has a single canal, while a molar can have two or three roots, each with one to two canals. For root canals on molars, you may have multiple visits to complete the root canal.

After the canals are completely cleaned out, they are filled with a filling. In most cases, a crown is then placed to restore the damaged tooth’s look and function.


Recovering from a root canal procedure

After your root canal procedure, you can expect to experience some discomfort and swelling as the numbing medication wears off. This should improve within a few days. When you go home, your dentist will send you instructions to manage pain. You will also receive advice on tooth care, especially if you have a temporary filling or crown. If you experience any of the following symptoms after a root canal, contact your dentist immediately:

  • Severe pain and/or pressure
  • Visible swelling around the tooth or face
  • An uneven bite after crown placement
  • If your crown becomes loose or falls out


At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we are here to make your dental care easier. If you believe you need any treatment, book your appointment here. And if you have any questions about root canals, please contact us online today or give our office a call at 707-56-1549.

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Owner @ New Leaf Rohnert Park

Professional Degrees

University of California at Davis – BS in Biological Sciences with emphasis in Neurology, Physiology, Behaviors

University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, Doctorate of Dental Surgery

State University of New York at Buffalo – General Practice Residency at Erie County Medical Center

Front Office Staff On Phone Taking Appointment

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