A root canal is necessary when the soft tissue inside a tooth (pulp) becomes infected or inflamed. Through a root canal procedure, your dentist will preserve your natural tooth, relieve pain, and prevent the infection from spreading without which the only choice would be extracting the tooth. Root canal treatment can take 30 minutes to 1 hour with some complex cases requiring 90 minutes or more. Sometimes, it can be done in one appointment but it may also need two sessions to complete. In this article, we will go over what you should know about root canal in addition to treatment time in case you need one.
What is a root canal?
A root canal, also referred to as endodontic treatment, is a dental procedure which aims to treat or remove the damaged and diseased soft tissue from within an infected tooth.
The soft tissue inside your tooth is called pulp—a living tissue consisting of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues. Every tooth has a pulp that is located in the pulp chamber extending to the canal roots of a tooth. The pulp feeds the tooth and keeps it and the roots healthy. It is the connection path to the gums and bones.
When an infection or inflammation begins to compromise the pulp, it will affect the entire pulp tissue. If not treated with a root canal, the infection can spread down to the roots and cause the formation of a pocket of pus at the tooth’s root, known as a dental abscess. This is a very serious infection and can spread to other teeth and other parts of the body.
Common reasons that cause infection in the pulp include:
- Tooth decay or deep cavities that has damaged enamel extensively, allowing bacteria to penetrate into the pulp
- Dental injuries such as cracked or chipped tooth
- Having repeated dental work done on the same tooth
- Damage to the cementum—the layer covering the roots— due to decay and untreated exposed tooth root
What does the root canal procedure involve?
Root canals are routine dental procedures that can be performed by a dentist in your regular dental appointment. More commonly and especially with complex cases, your procedure may be referred to an endodontist. They are dentists who specialize in dental pulp and have additional training with pain diagnosis and difficult-to-do root canals that can save your natural teeth.
Here are the steps you can expect during a root canal procedure:
1. Your dentist will use numbing agents and inject local anesthetic to numb the affected tooth or teeth and the area surrounding it.
2. Your dentist or endodontist will drill a small hole on top of the tooth to expose the inside of the tooth. They start to clean out the infection or remove the damaged tissue from the pulp chamber and the root canals.
3. They may apply medication to the inside of your tooth to disinfect all the remaining parts, killing all the bacteria and preventing the risk of reinfection.
4. Your tooth will be filled and sealed with special synthetic material. If your treatment should be completed in one appointment, the tooth will be restored with a permanent restoration. Otherwise, a temporary filling is placed until you get a permanent crown or a filling over your tooth.
How long does a root canal procedure take?
Typically, a simple root canal procedure can take 30 minutes to an hour. To do a root canal, your dentist needs more time compared to a routine filling. The nerve of your tooth must be carved out, disinfected, rinsed, and sealed. And since some teeth can have multiple canals or complex roots, you may expect 90 minutes or more and even a second appointment for a root canal.
How long the procedure takes will depend on the different types of teeth.
Canine and incisors
The root canal treatment for front teeth is generally easier. Front teeth are also called incisor and canine teeth. These are teeth used for tearing and cutting foods when you eat. Because of their single root system, they are faster and easier to treat and fill.
If you are getting a root canal for one of your front teeth, the procedure may still take 45 minutes or one hour.
Premolars are in the middle between your anterior teeth and molars. They have one or two roots depending on anatomy. So, cleaning out the roots will take more time for multi-rooted ones. The root canal can take one hour or more for premolars.
Molars can have up to four canals, making them the most time-consuming teeth to disinfect and fill. A dentist may need 90 minutes or more to perform a root canal on a molar.
Why a root canal may need two visits?
Although infection after a root canal rarely happens, it can occur if a tooth is not cleaned carefully. Therefore, in more complex teeth with difficult-to-clean root systems, your dentist may need more than one session to treat your infected tooth.
During the first visit, your dentist will remove the infected and damaged tissue and place a temporary antibacterial solution over your tooth. The second appointment involves more cleaning and sterilization of all the areas of the inside of your tooth. After making sure the root canals are infection-free, the dentist fills the canals with rubber-like material, seals the tooth, and restores it with a permanent filling or a crown.