What is a root canal?


A root canal procedure is what is done to remove the dead or dying pulp tissue from a tooth. A root canal treatment is needed when you have a tooth that is causing pain when you chew, is very sensitive to cold, is causing swelling, or has radiographic evidence of infection at the tip of the tooth root. The tooth pulp is the nerve and blood supply that gives a tooth feeling.  The pulp comes up from the jaw bone, through small hollow canals in the tooth roots, into a chamber or box in the center of the tooth. It also has tiny little extensions that go all throughout the underlying layer of the tooth.

The reason you need a root canal is that the pulp tissue is dying or has died inside the tooth. Pulp tissue dies when it is exposed to bacteria or trauma. This can happen in a few ways. The most common is from cavities. If a cavity gets large enough, the bacteria from the cavity invade the pulp and begin the process of killing it off. Another way is from a cracked or broken tooth. If the crack is large or deep enough, this can provide a path for bacteria to make it into the pulp. There are also some unusual times where we find a tooth has died and we just don’t know why.


Why does my tooth hurt?


As the pulp dies the tooth becomes very temperature sensitive and aches and throbs. Once that pulp tissue dies it starts to rot. Then all that bacteria and byproducts leak out of the chamber and down the canals in the roots to your jaw bone. This causes inflammation and infection in the bone leading to pain, swelling, and eventually an abscess.


How do we treat it? 


The only way to treat a dead or dying tooth is to remove all the dead and dying pulp tissue. We then have to clean and seal the canal and pulp chamber.

The typical process starts to get the tooth numb. We then make a small hole in the tooth to access the pulp chamber (box it sits in) and use a series of instruments and medications to remove and clean out all the dead material and bacteria from inside the tooth. We then seal and fill the roots and chamber. Finally, we close up the tooth with a filling. Depending on the size of the access hole and amount of decay the tooth had, we often have to cover the tooth with a crown to keep it from breaking when you chew.


How long do root canals take?


A root canal can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on the anatomy of the tooth and the severity of the infection.


Root canal recovery: What to expect afterward.


It is normal to have some pain after a root canal.  The tooth will be a little sore from all that work. This typically can be a dull ache for a few days and some tenderness if you bite on it. Depending on the severity of the infection, we may prescribe some antibiotics to make sure any lingering bacteria are taken care of.  After some healing time, the tooth will return to feel just like any other tooth.


Root canal cost


The cost of a root canal varies on what tooth is being treated and if you have insurance. The average cost of a root canal is anywhere from around $400 up to $1500 depending on the tooth if you have insurance, and what your particular insurance fee schedule is.