The Root Canal

Process Explained

The mouth is so sensitive, and any infection to your teeth or gums can cause severe pain to the surrounding areas. Even with this sharp pain, many people still fear going to the dentist. Hearing the term “root canal” tends to trigger unpleasant thoughts in people’s minds. However, the process is often just misunderstood. With many pain relief options, medical advances, and skilled dentists, root canals no longer need to be feared.


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What is a root canal?

A root canal, or endodontic therapy, is a two-step procedure taken when the nerves inside a tooth and the surrounding tissue are infected.

In the first step of the root canal treatment, the infected tissue is removed, and in the second step, the tooth is sealed and filled so that re-infection cannot occur.

To remove the infected areas, a hole is drilled into the tooth, and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and disinfected. Once all the infected tissue is removed, a filling is put into the hole for support and to prevent any further infection, and to return it to its original shape and look.

Call your dentist if…

Staying on top of your symptoms is essential, as not all infections will go away on their own.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you might need a root canal:

  • Severe toothache or tooth pain
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
  • Sensitivity to pressure from chewing or biting
  • Swelling around the face and neck
  • A hole in the tooth
  • Gum swelling

If you start experiencing some of these symptoms, contact your dentist right away to schedule a consultation. The infection will not go away on its own and ignoring the infection can completely rot the tooth, and lead to more severe consequences. If left untreated, the bacteria from the infection can travel from the roots of the tooth into the gums and jaw, causing severe pain and an abscess to form. When treated right away, the original tooth is saved, pain is relieved, and the infection is cleared away. causing severe pain and an abscess to form. When treated right away, the original tooth is saved, pain is relieved, and the infection is cleared away.

Root Canal Causes

Dental pulp, the soft core of the tooth, extends from the crown to the tooth's root in the jawbone. When the tooth has a cavity or a deep crack, the pulp can become infected, and when left untreated, it can cause severe pain and lead to more serious side effects.

Root canal causes can include tooth decay, leaky fillings, and damage to teeth such as cracks. When the infection sets into the soft tissue inside the tooth, it can lead to deep decay within the tooth.

A bacterial infection causes dental abscesses, which is a buildup of puss inside the teeth, gums, or in the root of the teeth. Intense throbbing pain in a tooth that spreads to your ear, jaw, or neck, swollen gums, temperature sensitivity, and severe bad breath can all be symptoms of dental abscesses.

Poor oral hygiene, including plaque buildup on your teeth from not flossing and brushing your teeth regularly, can cause dental abscesses. Consuming sugary foods, an injury or previous surgery to your teeth or gums, and having a weakened immune system are also common causes of dental abscesses.

A root canal is a treatment can relieve the pain and remove the infection.

Root canal treatment

The root canal treatment process is straight forward and relatively painless. The infected tooth is numbed using a local anesthetic or sedative dentistry if the patient prefers to ensure maximum comfort. A protective shield is then placed in the patient’s mouth to keep the infected tooth free from saliva.

Once the infected tooth is numbed, a hole is drilled into the crown of the tooth. The crown is the top part of the tooth that is visible. The infection is then wholly cleaned out, and the tooth canal is shaped to allow space for the fillings. Any bacteria or tooth debris remaining in the tooth is washed out with a cleaning solution.

The final step is to place a filling material inside the canals. The filling is a biocompatible material; usually, a rubber-like substance called gutta-percha. The filling is sealed in with an adhesive cement. Fillings are useful for small cavities and are relatively inexpensive. If just a filling will suffice, it is placed into the tooth the same day. When the root canal is more extensive, and the infection is larger, dental crowns can be used. A temporary crown or filling is placed onto the tooth until a customized crown is ready. A dental crown will encapsulate the entire tooth, offer greater protection, and will restore the tooth to its original appearance. They are also long-lasting, and when properly looked after, can last a lifetime.

Are root canals painful?

Root canals are performed to relieve tooth pain caused by infections. With more modern techniques and better anesthetics, most people do not feel much pain during the root canal process, and can even use simple over-the-counter pain medication following the procedures.

Once the tooth is numbed during the root canal process with a local anesthetic, the patient will not feel any of the drilling, scraping, or filling procedures.

Following the treatment, the infected tooth and surrounding area can feel sensitive, mainly if there was severe pain or infection before the procedure. The jaw can also feel sore due to being held open during the root canal surgery.

Taking pain medication can help to ease the pain, but any medications taken should be discussed with the dentist, as it is crucial to follow the post-operation steps exactly.

If severe pain lasts longer than a few days, or the area continues to swell, contact your dentist immediately.

Failed root canal

Even if the root canal process is performed correctly, a tooth can still become re-infected if it does not heal properly. The re-infection can happen weeks, months, or even years after the original procedure. If there is a failed root canal, it can be treated again, giving the original tooth a second chance.

Root canal infections, or re-infection, can occur when the tooth does not heal as expected. A variety of reasons can cause this. Narrow or curved canals may not have been adequately treated during the first root canal, or a complicated canal went undetected. Also, a delay in the placement of the crown following the original root canal may lead to re-infection. Salivary contamination during the initial operation can lead to re-infection, as well.

Sometimes, however, a different problem can threaten a tooth that was successfully treated with a root canal, such as new decay or a new crack in the tooth.

If retreatment is needed, the tooth will be reopened, often having to remove any crowns, posts, or core material first. Once the canal is cleared, the space is examined, cleaned, treated, and sealed. A new crown is fitted to the tooth.

Overly nervous patients

Going to the dentist is rarely enjoyable, and while most people can get through it once or twice a year, others need a bit more support.

Every industry finds a way to cater to different peoples’ needs, and the dental industry is no different. For those who have an actual fear of going to the dentist, sedation dentistry offers a solution. Ranging from local anesthetics to sleep induction, dentists have found ways to keep their patients comfortable.

Sedation dentistry options include:

  • Oral sedatives, which are given 45 minutes to an hour before the dental operation. They induce a state of drowsiness and promote a mental state of forgetfulness.
  • Nitrous Oxide, better known as laughing gas, is administered through a mask. When combined with a local anesthetic, patients feel very minimal discomfort.
  • IV Sedation is used in the most extreme cases when the most potent form of sedation is needed. It uses benzodiazepines and other opioids to induce sedation and pain relief instantly.

If fear of going to the dentist is off-putting to the point of risking your dental health, nitrous oxide sedation offers a very promising solution. Without the health risks of being fully sedated, it still provides significant relaxation and pain relief benefits.

Root canal benefits

While in some cases it is necessary to replace the tooth entirely, root canals can often solve the problem while still keeping the original tooth.

Root canals are a virtually painless procedure and leave the tooth and mouth with fewer discomforts during recovery than if the tooth was to be removed completely. The endodontic treatment preserves the natural smile and does not require any food restrictions.

Root canals, if appropriately treated, can last a lifetime, and will limit the need for ongoing dental work.

Preserve first, extract second

Many people think it is better to remove the tooth outright, instead of trying to save the original tooth. However, if the root canal procedure is performed effectively and immediately, the original tooth can be saved and restored to full function. After restoration, the tooth will perform just as it used to before infection.

Recovery and post-operation processes can often be longer and more drawn out with tooth extraction than with root canals. Root canals typically require one or two dental visits, depending on the type of filling, while tooth extraction requires follow-up appointments for a denture, bridge, or implant fittings. Tooth extractions and replacements do not always look as natural, and the cost of tooth extractions can be higher than endodontic treatments, as well, as most dental insurance plans cover root canal procedures, but not cosmetic procedures like implants.

Root canal treatments leave a more natural look, as crowns not only function like natural teeth, but they also look like natural teeth. The many misconceptions about root canals can be cleared up by contacting a qualified dentist.

Recovering from a root canal

After receiving a root canal treatment, following your endodontist's instructions for proper care is essential, especially if a temporary filling or crown is still in place.

While soreness is typical in the tooth and surrounding areas, after a few days, it will begin to ease. Over-the-counter pain medication can often be enough to relieve the pain, but your doctor might prescribe stronger pain medication if needed.

Experiencing mild pain is normal, however, if severe pain or pressure lasting more than a few days, swelling around the mouth, allergic reactions to medication or a loose temporary crown or filling occur, contact your dentist immediately.

Avoid biting down on the treated tooth directly until the permanent crown or filling has been fully restored, but still brush and floss daily, as you usually would, to help keep the area clean and prevent further infection.

The final crown should be put on as soon as possible to finish sealing the tooth off from further infection.

Daily dental health

Sometimes cavities and infections cannot be prevented, however, making sure that you are taking care of your teeth, gums, and overall oral health daily can help prevent any infections and bacterial growth.

Using floss to clean between your teeth and under the gum line, brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes twice daily, cutting down on sugary foods and drinks, avoiding smoking, and visiting your dentist for regular check-ups can help you maintain a healthy mouth.

Scott J Owens DDS Cosmetic & Family Dentistry

If you are experiencing severe tooth pain, or think a tooth might be infected, contact Dr. Scott Owens to schedule a complimentary consultation. Dr. Owens’s family practice is committed to treating each patient as an individual case and prides itself on being a dental practice that listens to its patients’ fears, concerns, and wishes.

There is no need to dread going to the dentist or scheduling a root canal. Dr. Owens and his team are skilled in the two-step endodontic process and can efficiently and effectively provide much-needed relief.

Encouraging patients to receive a root canal over tooth extraction allows Dr. Owen’s patients to enjoy their favorite foods again and to chew painlessly. Saving the original tooth instead of performing an extraction will make you look as if you never had an infection in the first place.

Root canals are nothing to be scared of; in fact, they can be precisely what you need to retain your smile and ease your pain.

Get the dental care you need at Dr. Scott J. Owens DDS by calling us today at 248-626-0772 for an appointment.

Scott J Owens DDS Cosmetic & Family Dentists

Convenient Hours
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Tuesday 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Wednesday off
Thursday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Friday 7 a.m.--1 p.m.

2nd Saturday of month 8 a.m.--1 p.m.

Phone: 248-626-0772
Fax: 248-626-3572


32931 Middlebelt Rd. Suite #608
Farmington Hills, MI 48334