What is a Root Canal? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Procedure

What is a root canal? We can tell you all about it. Simply put, a root canal is performed to help save an infected tooth.

What is a Root Canal? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Procedure

Root canals are a common procedure in the dental specialty of endodontics, which focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases inside of a tooth, such as the dental pulp. A general dentist or endodontist specialist can perform a root canal. This article will give complete information about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of root canals.

  • Root canals are a common dental procedure, with more than 41,000 being performed daily and 15 million annually.
  • 45% of individuals have heard of an endodontist (root canal specialist).
  • It is reported that endodontists perform approximately 25 root canal procedures each week, while general dentists perform less than two weekly.

What is a Root Canal?

What is a root canal? And what causes root canal? Read more below to find out these answers.

Root canal treatment involves the removal of the tooth's pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. This treatment is indicated once the pulp becomes damaged, infected, or non-vital. Common causes of pulp infection include tooth decay and dental trauma. If left untreated, dental infection can spread to other areas of the body and become life-threatening.

How Do You Know If You Need a Root Canal?

So, how do you know if you need a root canal? There are several root canal symptoms and signs to look out for that may indicate that you need a root canal, which are mentioned below.

  • Persistent Toothache - One of the most noticeable root canal symptoms is a toothache that does not seem to go away. This pain may even increase when chewing or consuming items that are hot or cold.
  • Tooth Sensitivity - Tooth sensitivity may be a sign of infected dental pulp. You may experience sharp pain with hot or cold stimuli.
  • Bump on the Gum - A bump on the gum, also referred to as a fistula, commonly occurs from a dental pulp infection. It typically resembles a small white or yellow pimple on the gums around a tooth.
  • Jaw Swelling - Dental infection can spread from the tooth to other areas such as the jaws. This can cause the jaws to become tender and swollen.
  • Discolored Tooth - A tooth that becomes visibly discolored can be a sign of an infected dental pulp. When the pulp tissue dies, it often turns a gray color over time.
  • Damaged or Fractured Tooth - Damaged or fractured teeth often lead to the spread of bacteria throughout the layers of teeth. To eliminate the infection, a root canal may be recommended.
  • Tooth Loss - Severe dental infection can result in bone loss that supports your teeth. As a result, tooth loss may occur and could be a sign that other teeth may also be infected.
  • Deep Cavity - Cavities that penetrate deep into the teeth can require a root canal to eliminate the infection. Your dental professional will evaluate the extent of the cavity through an X-ray and other diagnostic tests.
  • Tooth Abscess - A tooth abscess is a pus-filled area of bacterial infection that appears on the gums surrounding an infected tooth. Tooth abscesses can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

Do Root Canals Hurt?

A common question asked is, ‘Do root canals hurt?’ Don’t let the misconception that root canals are painful get in your head. Here’s the scoop below.

Many fear root canal treatment due to the thought of it being painful. Fortunately, root canal procedures help alleviate pain rather than cause it. Root canals will help eliminate painful symptoms of infection and help to save your tooth. The dental professional will perform the procedure using local anesthesia to numb you from feeling discomfort. They may also recommend the temporary use of over-the-counter pain medication after the procedure for additional relief.

What Takes Place During a Root Canal Treatment Procedure?

Root canal treatment involves several steps. In this section, you will learn more about the root canal before and after so that you can better understand the root canal procedure.

Diagnosis and X-rays

Your dental professional will first conduct a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms and overall dental and health history to aid in accurate diagnosis. Digital X-rays will also be taken to evaluate the inside of your tooth. Your dentist may also test the vitality of your dental pulp through methods such as applying cold or hot temperatures to the tooth, or tapping and palpating the tooth to assess the reaction of the nerves within the pulp.

Local Anesthesia

Prior to the start of the root canal procedure, your dental professional will administer local anesthesia around the tooth needing the root canal to numb the tooth and surrounding gums. The numbing effect is temporary and typically lasts for about two hours.

Access Opening

Your dental professional will create an opening through the crown of the tooth. This will help expose the inside of the tooth’s roots so that they can be thoroughly cleaned and rid of infection.

Pulp Removal

The pulp is removed and the roots are cleaned using small files. These files are designed to fit within the small canals and pull out the infected pulp tissue.


Once the pulp is removed, the root canals are irrigated with solutions to ensure the infected pulp is completely gone. They may also add an anti-bacterial medicated solution to help eliminate the bacteria and prevent further infection.


In a lot of cases, the root canal may be performed in two visits. If this is the case, a temporary filling will be placed in the crown opening until the next visit. When the root canal is to be completed, the root canals will be permanently filled to prevent bacteria from reentering the roots. The filling material commonly used is a cone-shaped rubbery material known as gutta-percha.

Sealing the Tooth

Once the canals are sealed with gutta-percha, the crown portion of the tooth is sealed off with another filling material to protect the tooth from bacteria. In some cases, a metal or plastic post is placed into the canal and sealed off with the filling material for extra support.


The last step of the root canal procedure is the addition of a restoration. The tooth is often capped with a crown to restore the tooth’s function and natural appearance.

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How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

Wondering how long does a root canal take? A root canal procedure can be performed relatively quickly. Read more below.

The amount of time a root canal can take can vary based on many factors, such as the number of roots the tooth has, the extent of the infection, and the overall complexity of your individual case. On average, however, root canal procedures usually take 1 or 2 visits to complete, each lasting around 60-90 minutes.

How Much Does Root Canal Treatment Cost?

Root canal cost can vary based on numerous factors. Here’s what you can expect below.

The cost of your root canal can depend on factors like which tooth is affected (front tooth, premolar, or molar), the complexity of the issue, and the specific practice and provider, for example. The cost on average ranges from $600-$2,000. Some insurances offer some coverage for root canal procedures, typically around 50% - 80% of the cost.

How Long Does Root Canal Recovery Take?

Root canal recovery time can vary. In this section, we will discuss the average recovery time after a root canal procedure.

Slight discomfort for a few days after a root canal is not a cause for concern. Overall recovery time is typically about one week. Your dental professional will provide you with instructions, such as to avoid smoking for at least a week after a root canal, and food recommendations to reduce your risk of disrupting the healing. You will likely be scheduled for a follow-up visit to monitor your root canal.

How to Avoid Root Canal?

It’s important to learn how to avoid root canal. This can help you save time and money in the long-run. Take a look at these simple steps to avoid a root canal.

  • Brush Teeth Daily - Maintaining excellent oral hygiene can help you avoid numerous dental and health issues. Brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes is a vital step in removing harmful bacteria from your mouth.
  • Floss Once a Day - Flossing daily helps remove cavity causing bacteria from in-between your teeth. Toothbrushing alone is not sufficient in removing food debris and bacteria from the nooks and crannies between your teeth.
  • Keep Tongue Clean - Your tongue can harbor bacteria and food particles that can cause oral problems if not removed. Be sure to brush your tongue to help reduce your risk of having a root canal.
  • Use a Mouthguard When Needed - A mouthguard can help protect your teeth from trauma. A mouthguard should be used if teeth grinding, when playing contact sports, or if participating in any activities that may result in harm to your teeth.
  • Stay Hydrated - Keep yourself hydrated with water. Water can help wash away food particles and harmful bacteria, as well as neutralize the pH of your mouth to keep your teeth strong and healthy.
  • Avoid Hard Foods - Stay away from hard foods that could damage your tooth enamel. Individuals with tooth cracks are more likely to require root canal treatment.
  • Don't Ignore Tooth Pain - If you are experiencing tooth pain, seek dental assistance immediately. An untreated infection can cause many serious health issues.
  • Reduce the Intake of Acidic Foods - Limit your consumption of acidic foods and drinks. Acidic items deteriorate tooth enamel and promote bacterial accumulation.
  • Schedule Regular Checkups - One of the best ways to prevent root canals and dental disease is to visit your dentist regularly. Your dentist can catch issues early on and treat them before more invasive treatment is needed.


A root canal may sound scary, but there is no need to fear. Root canals help retain your teeth and eliminate oral pain and infection. It is important to watch out for signs and symptoms like consistent tooth pain, sensitivity, discoloration, abscesses, and oral swelling, which requires treatment by your dental professional. Be sure to maintain good oral hygiene and keep up with your regular dental visits to help to avoid the need for future root canals.