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Root Canal Treatment
by Editorial Staff and Contributors
This procedure removes dental pulp when it has become dead or infected. Dental pulp is the soft core of the tooth. It contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. The pulp extends from the top of the tooth, called the crown, all the way down to the roots, in branches called canals.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
Dental pulp may become infected because of:
When dental pulp becomes infected or dies, a painful abscess within the jawbone will occur. Removing dead or diseased dental pulp will prevent infection from spreading to other areas of the mouth and destroying bone around the tooth. If a root canal is not done, the tooth will need to be removed.
Common signs of pulp problems include:
Possible Complications TOP
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a root canal, your dentist will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your dentist before the procedure.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to the Procedure
Your dentist will:
Local anesthesia will be used. The dentist will numb the area in your mouth. The anesthesia will be given as an injection.
Description of the Procedure TOP
A small hole will be made through the top of the tooth and into the pulp. Next, steel files will be inserted to extract the pulp tissue. All teeth have 1-4 individual canals. Pulp will need to be extracted from all canals in the affected tooth. Once all pulp has been removed, the walls of the root canal will be reshaped and enlarged. Medication will be inserted to kill bacteria.
At this point, a temporary filling may be inserted. This filling will protect the tooth. The procedure may be done within 1 visit or at multiple appointments. This depends on the condition of the tooth. Lastly, the canal will be dried, sterilized, and filled with a rubbery material. This material will prevent recontamination.
Immediately After Procedure TOP
The dentist will:
How Long Will It Take? TOP
A root canal may take 1-3 appointments. Each appointment may last 1-2 hours.
How Much Will It Hurt? TOP
You will have discomfort for a few days. Your doctor may give you pain medication.
Post-procedure Care TOP
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Call Your Doctor TOP
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
Canadian Dental Association
Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
Root canals. Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed February 19, 2016.
What is a root canal? Academy of General Dentistry website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated January 2012. Accessed February 19, 2016.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com: Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/15/2012
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