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When you experience ongoing, excruciating tooth pain, you can reach a point where you’ll do almost anything to find relief. However, you might question how strongly you desire pain elimination when you hear your dentist recommend a root canal, especially if you’ve never undergone this treatment before.

The very name of this procedure sounds painful, so it’s no wonder root canals have a poor reputation among dental patients. However, this treatment can actually be as pain-free as a dental filling. Moreover, root canals are a reliable way to relieve tooth pain and preserve your natural teeth.

In this blog, we’ll walk you through the steps involved in receiving a root canal and address common concerns about this unfairly maligned, standard dental treatment.

Diagnosing the Need for a Root Canal

Before you undergo root canal therapy, your dentist must identify that the problem tooth needs this treatment. He or she will make this diagnosis based on symptoms that may include the following:

  • The patient reports pain or sensitivity in a tooth. The pain may be intermittent or continuous.
  • The patient reports swollen or tender gums near teeth roots.
  • A dental X-ray shows an infection in a tooth’s pulp tissue.
  • An abscess appears on the gum tissue near a tooth’s root.
  • A single tooth changes color.

To confirm that your tooth needs a root canal, your dentist may perform additional tests. These tests range from exposing the tooth to hot or cold stimuli to tapping the tooth gently.

Reasons a Tooth Requires Root Canal Therapy

When your dentist recommends a root canal, he or she has discovered that the soft pulp tissue inside your tooth is infected or inflamed. A tooth’s pulp houses important tissues, such as nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue.

Tooth pulp can become infected through many means. Perhaps a cavity grew quite large and now extends into the pulp. The tooth may have received multiple dental procedures, leaving it vulnerable to further damage or decay. Additionally, mouth trauma may cause internal damage to the tooth.

No matter the cause of the inflammation, root canal therapy is usually the most effective treatment method. Unlike extraction, root canal treatment allows patients to keep their natural teeth, meaning their smiles still look natural and they can bite normally.

Steps in the Procedure

You likely wonder what you will experience at the dental office if you need a root canal. This section covers what you should expect.

What to Do Before the Treatment

Prepare for a root canal in the same way you would prepare for a filling. You can eat and drink normally the night before and the morning of the procedure, though you may want to avoid drinking alcohol so you are mentally aware. You should also avoid taking over-the-counter pain medication, as you may have to answer questions about the pain before the procedure begins.

What to Expect During the Treatment

Most root canals take about 60 minutes from start to finish. The procedure can be shorter or longer, depending on the severity of the inflammation.

Your dentist wants to ensure you feel as comfortable as possible during the procedure, so he or she will begin by applying a local anesthetic. Typically, the dentist rubs a numbing jelly on your gums and cheeks and then injects the anesthetic to completely (but temporarily) numb the tooth and surrounding tissues.

If you desire, your dentist may also administer nitrous oxide. You breathe this gas through a soft mask, and it helps you feel relaxed. If you have more serious dental anxiety, ask your dentist about sedation dentistry options.

Once your tooth is numb, your dentist will attach a metal frame and a plastic sheet to the affected tooth. These tools keep your mouth free of debris and allow your dentist to focus on the tooth that needs treatment.

At this point, your dentist uses equipment to reach the infected area, clean it out, and fill in the empty spaces. The anesthetic prevents you from feeling the procedure-root canal treatments cause no more pain than having dental cavities filled.

Once the tooth is filled, your dentist attaches a permanent or temporary crown. If the crown is temporary, you will return in a week or so to have a permanent crown attached.

What Happens After the Treatment

When your dentist completes the procedure, you are free to drive yourself away from the appointment as long as you didn’t undergo sedation dentistry. Your lips, cheeks, and gums may feel numb for a few hours until the anesthetic wears off.

Your dentist may prescribe a few medications, such as an antibiotic or a pain medicine. Take these medications according to instructions to ensure your tooth heals completely.


If you hear your dentist recommend a root canal, don’t fear. Ask him or her any additional questions you have about this procedure, and rest assured that it can give you quick and long-term relief from your tooth pain.