Ever since our grandparent’s generation, people seem to have heard something awful about root canal treatment. Outdated techniques and misunderstandings about medical and dental safety led many to believe that root canals are dangerous and painful procedures—but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Let’s answer a few of the most common questions about root canals to clear up the bad reputation around this safe and beneficial procedure.

What Is a Root Canal Treatment Procedure?

If you’ve ever wondered how to save a dying tooth, root canals are the answer. When the enamel layer of our teeth is decayed to a certain point, harmful bacteria can infiltrate the spongy inner layer, called the “dentin,” which is full of microscopic tubes. If not treated with a filling, which removes the infected dentin, then the bacteria can spread into the pulp, which contains the main blood supply to the tooth, and even to the root where the nerve is located. This causes severe pain as the swollen tissue presses onto the nerve, and eventually, the tooth will die as the blood supply is cut off.

During a root canal treatment, your endodontist will thoroughly numb the tooth and access the root with surgical tools. Then, they will remove the infected material and place a sterile filling in the remaining cavity to prevent reinfection.

Root canals are the best chance you have for saving a tooth after the root has been infected, and while they can be more costly than a typical filling when it comes to root canal vs. extraction, dentists almost always recommend doing what you can to save a tooth you have.

Is a Root Canal Painful?

Because of advancements in surgical technique, finer instruments, and local anesthesia, root canals shouldn’t hurt any more than a simple filling. In fact, most patients report that their pain substantially decreased and eventually stopped altogether after a root canal.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take and How Is a Root Canal Done?

Root canals typically lake a little longer than fillings due to the nature of the procedure. Usually, your endodontist will take an X-ray of your mouth to assess the extent of the damage. Root canals are then performed by numbing the area around the tooth with a local anesthetic and using surgical tools to remove infected tissue, clean the root, and seal the cavity. You should plan on spending about 2 to 3 hours at the endodontist’s office for your root canal treatment. Sometimes, your referring general dentist will need to add a crown to your tooth, which can take even more time and require a follow-up appointment.

Can You Smoke After a Root Canal?

Smoking in general is not advised when it comes to your oral health, but it can be especially damaging to smoke right after a root canal. Smoking dries out your mouth, which can allow harmful bacteria to enter your procedure site before it is healed. In certain cases, this can result in infection of the site, which will require antibiotics and potential retreatment of the wound to remove infected tissue.

Can You Drive After a Root Canal?

Yes, because root canals are performed with the same local anesthesia you might receive for a filling, you can safely drive yourself home after your procedure. For patients who have high anxiety around dental procedures, it may be possible to perform your root canal with general anesthesia in the form of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or other medication, but this will depend on what your endodontist deems is safe and, usually, what your insurance will cover. In these cases, you will need to have someone else drive you home as it can take several hours for the full effects of the anesthesia to wear off.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take To Heal?

Root canals usually take between one and two weeks to fully heal. Patients typically report some mild pain and discomfort in the hours and days after the initial procedure, with increased tenderness around the site for the next week or so. After this time period, though, you should notice your symptoms subside and the affected tooth will feel as though nothing happened!

Do You Need a Crown After a Root Canal?

Removing the inner structure and blood supply to a tooth can weaken it over time, meaning it may be necessary to place a crown over the treated tooth. Crowns prevent fracturing and discoloration of the treated tooth over time, and because the tooth is still attached to the underlying jawbone, even a crowned tooth will be stronger and require less treatment than a dental implant. After the root canal treatment is done you should contact your referring general dentist’s office for a final crown restoration.

Is Tooth Sensitivity After Root Canal Common?

Yes, it’s natural for your tooth to have increased sensitivity for a few days after a root canal procedure. This is due to the underlying nerve having been exposed to outside stimulus, but as the site heals, sensitivity should return to normal levels.

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Failed Root Canal?

Sometimes root canal treatment can fail when not enough of the infected material has been removed, potentially resulting in reinfection. When this happens, it’s important to see your endodontist right away for retreatment to stop the infection before it spreads. Symptoms of a failed root canal that may require retreatment include severe swelling and pain around the procedure site that gets worse over time, a foul smell coming from the affected tooth, tenderness to touch, persistent sensitivity to hot and cold, and pus or a pimple-like growth around the gum line of the affected tooth. Proper root canal after care can help minimize the chances of reinfection or a failed root canal treatment and will be explained thoroughly by your endodontist before and after your procedure.

Root canals are a safe, effective, and important procedure to help patients save their teeth when all else has failed. If you suspect you might need a root canal or have more questions about treatment, contact Advanced Endodontics in Reno. We are the premiere clinic for endodontics dentistry in Reno, and we’re ready to help our patients get the care they need to get healthier smiles and lead happier lives. Call today!