Root canals inspire fear in the hearts of unsuspecting dental patients, but even that little factoid is relatively outdated—today a root canal is often no more painful than a filling. So what is a root canal? And when do you need a root canal, anyway? We’ll answer these questions and more so if you ever need to schedule one, you can do so without fear. Let’s start with the basics:
A root canal is a procedure to remove the inner nerve tissue or “pulp” of an infected tooth. Once the pulp is extracted, the inner area is cleaned and filled.
There are three main causes for root canals: deep decay, cracking or chipping, and repeated dental procedures. But all of these root canal causes have one main commonality: infection.
This type of decay is also considered stage-four tooth decay, which means that bacteria within the pulp (the inner nerve tissue of the tooth) has become infected, usually due to an untreated cavity.
Cracks and chips most often come from simple accidents such as a trip or a fall or from biting down on something particularly hard. You can learn more about cracked teeth here.
If you’ve had multiple fillings or procedures done on the same tooth, that can be a sign it’s prone to infection and in order to save the tooth, a root canal must be performed instead.
How do you know if you need a root canal? There are a few key signs to keep an eye out for:
For most people, intense tooth pain is the most common symptom, but even if you’re not experiencing any pain, a root canal may still be necessary. If you have one or more of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your endodontist.
First off, root canals no longer deserve their reputation as horrifically painful procedures. Advancements in both anesthesia and the process itself have made it a much less intimidating experience. Most patients don’t report extreme pain at all, saying it was similar to getting a filling.
Immediately following your root canal, you might experience some discomfort and sensitivity. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and Aleve can help with the pain. In some cases, such as when the tooth is infected, medicine may be placed inside the tooth. A second appointment is required after your tooth has healed to complete the root canal process with a filling, crown, or other tooth restoration.
Root canal costs vary widely depending on where you live and which tooth needs treatment. According to NerdWallet, on average, you can expect to spend between $700 and $1,000 per tooth.