Root Canal
Reasons to Get One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

3 Reasons Why Would You Need a Root Canal

1. Deep tooth decay

A root canal is often performed when the pulp inside your tooth suffers deep decay.[1] The pulp is the soft tissue that exists underneath the hard surface of the tooth. Cavities and other forms of tooth decay sometimes spread past the hard surface and into the pulp.

If this occurs, your dentist may remove the infected pulp to prevent further decay. Failing to address deep decay can result in tooth loss. A root canal can remove the decay and help preserve your tooth.

2. Tooth trauma

Deep decay isn't the only cause of damaged tooth pulp. Your pulp may be damaged by an injury or trauma that affects your mouth.[1]

Pulp damage can occur even if there are no apparent chips or cracks in your teeth. That's why it's essential to see a dentist after an injury to your mouth or teeth. Early treatment may help you avoid a root canal or tooth loss.

3. Repeated dental procedures

Even an expert dentist can't prevent all cases of tooth trauma. Sometimes, dental procedures themselves cause the pulp to become inflamed or infected.[1] This may occur after extensive dental work that requires many different procedures.

Understanding Root Canals

During a root canal, your dentist drills through the hard surface of the affected tooth. Next, the inflamed pulp is removed. Your dentist then cleans and disinfects the inner part of the tooth. This helps prevent the infection from spreading. Finally, the tooth is filled and sealed with a special material called gutta-percha.[1]

After a root canal, you may need another procedure to restore the appearance of your tooth. Many people choose to have a crown placed on the affected tooth. A crown is a small device that covers the top of your tooth.[1] Your crown is custom-made in a dental lab and then cemented in place. Crowns can provide a natural appearance and help protect teeth that have been drilled.

Risks of a Root Canal

Modern root canals are generally very safe, and few patients experience significant complications. However, they can sometimes occur. In some cases, your tooth may be severely damaged by an injury or deep decay. Your dentist may decide that your tooth won't support a full root canal. If this is the case, you may need to have the tooth removed.[1]

You may also experience complications if infected material is left behind in the tooth. Complications can also arise if your antibiotics are not effective. Left untreated, infected pulp can develop into a tooth abscess.

Abscesses are very painful and often result in tooth loss.[2] You can reduce your risk of an abscess by following your dentist's instructions carefully. Take all your antibiotics as prescribed. Make sure to obey your doctor's instructions about maintaining your oral hygiene after your root canal.

If you need a root canal, it's vital that you see a qualified dentist who has experience performing these procedures. Ask your dentist what to expect from your procedure and what follow-up care you will receive.

What to Expect with a Root Canal

On the day of your root canal, a technician escorts you to the treatment room before placing a bib around your neck to protect your clothing.[2] They might also provide special eyewear to shield your eyes during the procedure.

Next, your dentist arrives and administers anesthetic. This will numb your mouth to prevent you from feeling pain, but it will not render you unconscious.[2] If you're nervous about your treatment, your dentist may offer other medications to help you relax, like sedatives.

Once your tooth is numb, your dentist drills into the tooth and carefully removes the pulp. Your dentist may also apply an antibiotic to prevent infection. Once your tooth is cleaned and disinfected, you dentist fills and seals the tooth. He or she may also place a temporary cover over the tooth.[2]

After your procedure, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics or pain medications.[1] Instructions on how to care for your tooth after the procedure will be provided, including when you can return to your normal activities and what precautions you need to take in the meantime.

You may need to make an appointment for a follow-up exam a few days after your root canal. During this appointment, your dentist examines your tooth and takes X-rays to confirm that you are healing well. Your dentist may also replace your temporary filling with a permanent filling and crown.[1]

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Root Canals

  • What kind of follow-up care will I need?
  • Will I feel pain during or after treatment?
  • What type of pain medication is available?
  • How long will my root canal take?
  • When can I return to school or work?
  • When can I eat or drink after my treatment?
  • Will I need someone to drive me home after my treatment?

Root Canal May Also Be Known as:

  • Endodontic treatment
  • Endodontic therapy


  1. Healthline. Root canal.
  2. WebMD. Dental health & root canals.

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