By the time your endodontist says you need a root canal, you may not care about the details of the procedure – you may simply want the pain in your mouth to stop. However, understanding what happens when a root canal is performed can lead to a better outcome.

Root Canals, Step By Step

  1. Your dentist or endodontist determines a root canal is needed. Root canals may be performed if your tooth pulp has become infected due to decay, a cracked tooth, or other reasons.  You may have symptoms such as a severe toothache, long-lasting sensitivity to hot or cold (long after the stimulus is removed), discoloration of the tooth, pain in the gums surrounding the tooth, or a reoccurring pimple on the gums near the tooth.
  2. The tooth is X-rayed and the gums surrounding it are numbed. As part of the procedure, your endodontist will also place a dental dam around the tooth to protect it from saliva.
  3. A small hole is drilled in the crown of the tooth. This allows the endodontist to access the infected tooth pulp and/or the abcess.
  4. Your endodontist uses specialized tools to clean your tooth roots. These small tools do an important job: removing all infected pulp. They can also be used to shape the canals, preparing them for the next step.
  5. The cleaned root canals are filled with a special material to prevent additional infection. Most of the time, the biocompatible material used is a rubber-like compound called gutta-percha. An adhesive material ensures the canal is completely sealed.
  6. If the affected tooth has weak internal structure, a post may be added to strengthen it. This ensures the restoration will remain in place permanently.
  7. A temporary filling is placed on the tooth. This protects the root canal until your follow-up visit.
  8. Several weeks later, a permanent crown is placed on the tooth. This last step is crucial, providing durable protection for the root canal treatment.

“Each step in the root canal process serves an important function,” says Allen, an endodontist in practice with the Phoenix Endodontic Group. “Our staff is happy to explain what you will experience during a root canal, and respond to any concerns you may have.”