Root Canals

What is a root canal?

Inside your tooth, below the hard enamel and dentin, is a mass of tissue called pulp. The pulp surrounds the nerves at the center of your tooth and it is sensitive to bacteria. If the pulp becomes exposed to potential infectants or bacteria — for example, if you have a crack or chip in your tooth — pulp can become infected. An untreated infection of the pulp can lead to pain, dental decay, and even tooth loss.

Root canal therapy is the process of removing the infected pulp from the center of your tooth. It is a non-surgical procedure that requires your dentist to make a small opening to remove the rotten tissue. The center of your tooth is then filled with a root canal filling.

How do I know if I need one?

The common symptoms of a root canal infection include sensitivity and pain around the infected tooth. Often, an infected tooth is highly sensitive to pressure and temperature, and the gums around the tooth might swell.

Not everyone who has an infection experiences these symptoms. You may have an asymptomatic root canal infection, and you might not know it’s there until you begin to experience more serious signs of decay. Because of this, adults are encouraged to visit the dentist regularly and stay up-to-date on their dental x-rays.

brunette woman reading a book and holding her jaw in pain
female dental assistant comforting female patient

Does a root canal hurt?

Root canals are often thought to be painful, but it’s almost always the infection that causes pain, not the procedure. Even though your tooth may be painful before and immediately after the surgery due to the infected tissue around your dental nerves, the root canal procedure itself adds very little pain to the process — it actually reduces your pain once treated.

Root canals are non-surgical and typically, dentists use local anesthesia to numb the area. Even if your infection is particularly painful, take hope — the vast majority of root canal fillings last a lifetime.