What Is A Root Canal Procedure?

When a patient hears the words ‘root canal’, their first response is often concern or fear. The procedure and therapies used to treat damaged root canal are unfamiliar, and thus, may seem frightening. Sometimes, the patient does not even know what a root canal is. A good dentist will take the time to reassure you regarding the procedure and address any concerns you may have.


The reality of the root canal procedure is that it is a very safe and relatively painless treatment that actually greatly or completely relieves the discomfort or pain of the patient, also allowing for optimal tooth health.

Individuals that are experiencing the symptoms described there, or any tooth pain or heightened sensitivity, should contact us to make an appointment right away so that their tooth may be saved.

So, what is a root canal?

What is a root canal?

The space within a tooth, called the pulp chamber, fills the length of the tooth root to the tip. This chamber is called a canal—a root canal. The root canal procedure is a oral surgery where the dentist goes inside of the tooth to clean out decay within these canals.

Each tooth has between one and 4 of these canals. Molars have 2-4 canals, premolars and cuspids have 1-2 canals, and incisors generally have one.

What are common problems that require treatment for the root canal?

The tiny canals that create the chamber containing the pulp of the tooth, and the nerve, can be damaged. Trauma to the tooth or infection of the nerve will result in the need for root canal treatment. Commons causes for root canal treatment include:

  • Tooth decay has penetrated the tooth enamel and the dentin, infecting the tooth pulp. The decay must be removed.
  • A tooth has become abscessed or infected from untreated tooth decay.
  • Trauma to the tooth, such as becoming chipped or broken, has exposed the tooth nerve,
  • The tooth is dying due to age or past trauma that did not receive or did not require treatment at the time of the injury.

If proper root canal treatment is given, the tooth may be saved, or the need for extraction removed for some years to come.

What is the root canal procedure?

Once a dentist has determined that patient needs a root canal or tooth extraction, he will confer with the patient, discussing the problems with their tooth. An oral surgery will be scheduled shortly after the visit.

During the root canal procedure, the dentist will use a standard drill to access the inside of the tooth. A round drill will be used to remove the pulp within the pulp chamber, exposing the root canals. Tiny files will be inserted into the canals to remove the contents. Increasing file sizes will be used, as the dentist gently cleans and shapes the canals.

Once all the decayed or infected pulp is removed, the dentist will place rubber cones coated with liquid sealer into the canals. Multiple rubber cones will be inserted to ensure that a compact seal is achieved.

Your dentist will then use a heated instrument to remove the excess rubber cone, and to further compact the rubber within the canal to better fill the canal space. Optimum treatment includes placement of one or more posts to strengthen the tooth and retain the filling, prolonging tooth life. A light resin, hardened by a bright light, will then be used to fill the remaining space.

At this point, your dentist will either allow the tooth to remain intact with the filling already placed, or he will decide to cover with a full crown, or cap.

Does a root canal procedure hurt?

This is one of the most common questions asked regarding a root canal procedure. Surprising to most, however, is that the answer is “No—no more so than getting a filling.” Modern day techniques and equipment have developed to the point that, in the majority of cases, root canal procedures are not painful, but they can be time consuming and may sometimes require multiple visits.

Treatment for root canals will include the following pain prevention methods:

  • The tooth and surrounding area is numbed before any work is begun on the tooth itself.
  • The tooth itself is often ‘dead’ and won’t cause pain because the nerves within the root canals have been destroyed by infection or inflammation.
  • Dentists will use a sedative to lessen your awareness of the ongoing procedure

Part of the reason that many people associate pain with this type of procedure is the pain prior the procedure. When you’ve had a tooth ache for days, or it hurts to chew, or you are experiencing extreme sensitivity to heat or cold, it is natural to expect that pain will also be involved in the rectification of the underlying issue.

If you suspect that you or a family member could be suffering from tooth decay, take a look at our article on the symptoms of root canal decay to learn more.

In reality, the root canal procedure should not hurt any more than a normal filling, though the duration of the surgery will take quite a bit longer. Usually a root canal procedure will take anywhere between 45 mins to 2 hours or more. This will vary upon how many canals are in the tooth and the severity of the tooth decay.

What should I expect after the procedure?

As with any surgery, there will be some pain following the root canal treatment, especially in the days immediately following the procedure. The tooth will often be tender to touch or while chewing. The gum surrounding the tooth may also be tender and slightly swollen.

Such symptoms are normal and may be mitigated by taking painkillers prescribed by your dentist and by treating the tooth gently. Generally, ibuprofen and aspirin are sufficient analgesics to take following dental care, but your dentist may offer stronger prescriptions if necessary.

If the pain does not begin to ease within a few days following the procedure, it is recommended that you return to your dentist for a checkup on your recovery. Symptoms that do not resolve after a few weeks may be a sign of root canal complications, and require immediate attention from your dentist.

At Mukilteo Family Dentistry, we strive toward providing excellent service for all of our patients. We believe that good preventative services can often remove or slow the need for more major procedures or surgeries. Contact us to begin, what we hope, can be a partnership for many years to come.