My dentist says I need a root canal. What should I know about it?

Female dental patient smiling for root canal procedure
Female dental patient smiling for root canal procedure

Your dentist told you that you need a root canal and you want to know what that means and what’s involved. Why do you need a root canal? Is it painful? Will it take long? How is it done? What can I expect after the procedure? These are questions that patients often ask when told they need a root canal. Let’s help answer those questions in this post.

Firstly, a root canal is a dental procedure a dentist performs to treat and save a tooth that is severely infected or damaged. It involves removing the infected or damaged pulp (the innermost part of the tooth) and then cleaning, disinfecting, and sealing the space inside the tooth. Here’s what you should know about the procedure:

Reasons for A Root Canal

Patients typically need root canals when the pulp of a tooth becomes infected due to deep decay, a cracked or chipped tooth, repeated dental procedures on the same tooth, or trauma to the tooth. If left untreated, the infection can spread, leading to severe pain, abscess formation, and potentially the loss of the tooth.

Procedure Steps

The root canal procedure involves several steps:

  • Diagnosis: We will take X-rays to assess the extent of the infection and determine if a root canal is necessary.
  • Anesthesia: Local anesthesia is administered to numb the area around the tooth, ensuring you are comfortable during the procedure.
  • Pulp Removal: The dentist will create an opening in the tooth and remove the infected or damaged pulp using specialized tools.
  • Cleaning and Shaping: The inner chamber of the tooth and the root canals are cleaned thoroughly, shaped, and disinfected to remove any remaining bacteria.
  • Filling: The cleaned space is then filled with a biocompatible material called gutta-percha to seal off the canals and prevent future infections.
  • Restoration: After the root canal, a crown or filling is usually placed on the tooth to restore its strength and functionality.

Pain and Discomfort

Contrary to popular belief, modern root canal procedures are relatively painless due to the use of effective local anesthesia. The procedure is designed to alleviate the pain the infection causes rather than cause additional discomfort.

Length of Time

A root canal procedure is a very common procedure that dentists have much practice performing. A standard procedure takes as little as 30 minutes. However, the location and size of the tooth, such as the back molars which have multiple roots, can increase the time to an hour or hour and a half. If there are multiple teeth that need the procedure, that would increase the time.


After a root canal, you may experience some mild discomfort or sensitivity for a few days. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage this. Follow your dentist’s instructions for caring for the treated tooth and attend any recommended follow-up appointments.

Success Rate

Root canals have a high success rate as it is a very common procedure. With proper care and maintenance, a tooth that has undergone a root canal can last a lifetime. Make sure to brush your teeth morning and night and floss daily. This will keep your teeth healthy and help prevent the need for further procedures.

Alternative to a Root Canal

If you choose not to undergo a root canal, the only alternative may be to have the tooth extracted. However, tooth extraction can lead to other issues such as shifting of surrounding teeth, problems with chewing, and the need for replacement options like dental implants or bridges. In the long run, removing the tooth would be far more expensive and is not the best solution for your oral health. It’s always better to keep the original tooth if possible, which is the purpose of the root canal.

Cost and Insurance

The cost of a root canal can vary based on factors such as the tooth’s location and the complexity of the procedure. Dental insurance often covers a portion of the cost. It’s important to discuss the financial aspects with your dentist’s office and your insurance provider. At Millennium Family Dental, we offer a member savings plan to help with dental costs.

Choosing a Dentist

If your regular dentist has recommended a root canal, but you feel you need a second opinion, Millennium Family Dental offers free second-opinion consultations. We examine your teeth, give you our opinion about treatment, and talk with you about your options at no cost. Patient coordinators can even talk with your insurance company to determine your coverage limits. We won’t pressure you for any reason so that you can decide what’s best for you.