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Root Canal


Root canal is actually the term used to describe the space within the tooth. Endodontics is the dental specialty that deals with root canal therapy. Root canal therapy is when the endodontist removes the inflamed or infected pulp. Root canals are only preformed when the dentist believes an infected tooth is salvageable and can gain functionality again. If the tooth cannot be saved, in most cases it is extracted and replaced with dental implants or dental bridges.

Constant toothaches are a good indication that a tooth is infected and/or inflamed. There are nerve fibers, blood, and lymph tissues living together inside root canals that are funneled through a pulp chamber. When the pulp chamber is damaged it breaks down and allows bacteria to grow.

During root canal therapy, the dentist carefully cleans and shapes the nerve canal of the tooth’s root, then seals it. Generally a temporary cap or crown is placed on the root canal until the patient can come in for a second visit. In some cases, a patient will need to see the endodontist more than two times. Most root canal procedures can be done in one visit, lasting 30-90 minutes on average. If you need to receive multiple root canals, your treatment plan may be extended over the period of several months to complete treatment.

Are Root Canals Painful?

The root canal procedure is generally not painful. Actually, after the numbing agent is applied, most patients describe the procedure as uncomfortable rather than painful. Root canal therapy has a 95% success rate; the fixed tooth usually lasts the rest of your lifetime. It is unclear why root canals have such a bad reputation, but many people describe the discomfort as similar to dental filling procedures.

After root canal therapy, especially during the initial days, the tooth may be sensitive. This is very common, especially since the tooth and surrounding tissues were irritated during the procedure.

Signs You May Need a Root Canal

The most common reason for a root canal is the pain associated with the exposed nerve inside the tooth. Sometimes there are no visible signs that you have a diseased tooth, but there are some things to look for, including:

  • Tooth discoloration
  • Weak teeth
  • Cracked or chipped teeth
  • Swelling and irritation in the gum area around the tooth
  • X-ray shows signs of infection

Root Canal Costs

Root canals can range in price widely, depending on factors such as the location of the dentist, the dentist you choose, how many root canals are needed, type of dental insurance, and the severity of the infected pulp. Typically, molars can cost up to $800, while incisors can cost up to $550 if a general or family dentist performs the root canal therapy. If you see a specialist such as an endodontist, prices can jump up to 50% higher. Thankfully, most dental insurance plans cover endodontic treatments. It’s important to read your plan carefully to find out the specific details of your coverage.

Am I a Candidate for a Root Canal?

Here are a few questions that may help you determine if you need a root canal:

  • Do you have deep cavities?
  • Do you feel a large amount of pain inside a tooth?
  • Do you have broken or chipped teeth that expose the inner tooth?
  • Is there an infection in or around your tooth?
  • Are your gums inflamed around the tooth in distress?

Root canals are necessary when the nerve inside the tooth becomes inflamed or infected. The most common reasons for inflammation and infection are deep cavities, repeated dental procedures, cracks, chips, or trauma to the teeth. Teeth that are inflamed or infected and left untreated can turn into a tooth abscess, which requires extensive dental work. In extremely severe cases, abscessed teeth can even lead to death due to the poisons released into your system. If you answered yes to the questions above, you should seek advice from a dental professional about receiving a root canal.

Page updated February 2011



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