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How does a root canal work?

How Does A Root Canal WorkAh, the dreaded root canal. This is one dental procedure that inspires fear – and lots of misinformation. Summit Dental Center is here to bust some of the myths surrounding root canals, and clear some of their notoriety for causing pain. We will explain what it is, how the procedure is done, and why people believe it is such a painful treatment.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a procedure used to treat an infected, inflamed, or dead tooth; to be more specific, to treat the infected, inflamed, or dead pulp of a tooth. Reasons for the pulp of your tooth becoming infected and needing a root canal include:

  • Deep decay from bacteria reaching the pulp of a tooth
  • Trauma from being hit with great force
  • Fractures in the tooth
  • Broken dental crowns
  • Having too much dental work done on a tooth, which can lead to resorption

Too much dental treatment leading to the need for a root canal… how ironic, right?

But let’s back the train up for a second. What is pulp? Well, pulp is the soft center of your tooth where all your nerves, tissue, and blood vessels reside. Very important stuff. The pulp chamber is what holds all the soft stuff with the nerves, tissue, and blood vessels and connects them with the bone surrounding it. This is where infection of the pulp becomes possible, as it enters through the pulp chamber. When your pulp becomes infected through the pulp chamber, it causes serious nerve pain that can take a toll on your day-to-day life.

Some signs that may point to you having an infection and need a root canal include pain, swelling, tooth discoloration, and sensitivity to hot or cold foods. An infected tooth sometimes goes hand-in-hand with an abscess, which is when a pocket of pus forms near the infected tooth. If you feel a pimple-like protrusion on your gums, for example, chances are that the infection in your tooth spread to nearby tissue.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure to have a check-up with your dentist ASAP, since waiting to get the infection treated will only make it worse. Your dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection prior to performing the root canal. The antibiotics will bring some pain relief as the infection recedes, but follow-up with a root canal is very important if you don’t want the infection to come back at a later time.

Should I be afraid to get a root canal?

No, no, no, and no. We can’t emphasize enough that a root canal relieves pain, rather than causing it. So before we discuss how a root canal works, let’s find out why so many of our patients are absolutely terrified to get one!

We’ve all heard frightening stories about root canals, and somewhere along the way people have come to believe that the root canal procedure itself is what is painful. Decades ago, there may have been a little bit of truth to that. But nothing could be further from the truth today. The painful part of a root canal isn’t the procedure itself, but rather the nerve pain that comes before the treatment.

Infected tooth = severe pain.

Root canal = immediate pain relief.

Root canal treatment can typically be done with just local anesthesia, but if getting a root canal makes you really nervous or scared, talk to your Summit Dental Center dentist about sedation options that ensure your comfort throughout the procedure.

So you see? From the moment the dentist numbs your gums, your pain is all but gone. Once the root canal procedure is completed and the anesthesia wears off, you may feel minimal discomfort caused by the handling of the tooth. Over the counter pain medication should alleviate this minor discomfort.

What is the root canal process?

Before undergoing the root canal procedure, x-rays will be taken and pulp vitality tests may be administered to check pulp condition. This is usually done by placing a cold impetus, or stimulus, on the teeth to test the pulp’s response to it. The dentist will then determine if you need a root canal, and if you do, how your root canal will be performed.

The procedure is usually done in two parts:


  • During your first visit, the dentist will start by numbing the area with an anesthetic and place a rubber dam around the tooth; the dam will keep the area clean and saliva-free throughout the procedure.
  • Next, a hole is drilled into the tooth in order to remove all the infected pulp, bacteria, and decay. Then, the hole is deep-cleaned using a series of root canal files. Once your tooth is all clean, the dentist may apply medication inside the tooth before sealing it temporarily.

The first half of your root canal is now complete.


The second half of the root canal happens a few days later and involves placing a permanent filling in your tooth. First, the temporary sealant from STEP 1 a few days ago will be removed. A special cement compound called gutta percha will then be used to close the cavity for good.

Once again, local anesthesia is usually enough to keep the patient comfortable during this step, but various sedation options are available to reduce anxiety and further eliminate discomfort.


If the filling in the affected tooth is very large, your Summit Dental Center dentist may recommend placement of a dental crown over the tooth to add stability and improve the tooth’s integrity.

Root canal recovery

After receiving your root canal, you should be able to continue your normal daily activities immediately and be completely pain-free after a few days. If you’re still feeling pain after a few days, you can just take some over-the-counter pain relievers and you should be good to go.

During those first few days after the procedure, you should avoid chewing hard or tough foods with your root canal tooth until the site has had a chance to heal. Once your tooth is healed, all you need to do is take care of your tooth the way you would the rest of your teeth, with good dental hygiene!

Why choose Summit Dental Center for your root canal?

At Summit Dental Center, we are committed to bringing quality and affordable dental treatment to patients of all ages. We accept all dental PPO insurance and welcome Medicaid/CHIP patients.

We also offer affordable dental financing plans that allow you to pay off out-of-pocket costs in monthly installments.

Contact Summit Dental Center today to schedule an appointment by calling 713-425-0450!