Frequently Asked Questions

What is endodontics?

Endodontics is a branch of dentistry recognized by the American Dental Association involving treatment of the pulp (root canal) and surrounding tissues of the tooth. When you look at your tooth in the mirror, what you see is the crown. The rest of the tooth, the portion hidden beneath the gum line, is called the root. Though the outer portion of the root is a hard tissue called dentin, the inside channel or “root canal” contains a pulp of soft tissue, blood vessels and nerves. Bacteria that are introduced into the pulp as a result of tooth decay, periodontal disease, tooth fracture or other problems, can severely damage the pulp. When that happens, an endodontic specialist removes the diseased pulp to save the tooth and prevent further infection and inflammation. After successful endodontic treatment, the tooth continues to perform normally.

Why do I need a root canal?

Endodontic, or root canal, treatment is necessary when the pulp becomes infected or inflamed. The inflammation or infection can have several causes: deep decay, trauma, repeated dental procedures on a tooth, or a crack in the tooth. Sometimes a blow to the tooth will cause these changes but cannot be seen on the surface of the tooth. Some of the indications of damage to the pulp include pain, discoloration of the tooth, prolonged sensitivity to hot or cold, and swelling or tenderness in the gums near the tooth. Occasionally, root canal treatment is necessary even when there are no symptoms.

What is a root canal?

During a root canal, the Endodontist examines and x-rays the tooth/teeth, and then local anesthetics will be given if treatment is necessary. A small protective sheet called a “dental dam” will be placed around the tooth to isolate it, hence keeping it clean and dry during treatment. The treatment consists of three or four basic steps, but the number of visits will depend on your particular case. Some treatment takes two visits but many are just a single visit.

There are, of course, no guarantees. Root canal or endodontic therapy has a very high degree of success, up to 90%. We will discuss with you the chances of success before any endodontic procedure to help you make an informed decision. If a root canal or endodontic therapy is unsuccessful or fails you still have options.

Will the root canal be painful?

With modern anesthesia, most patients are comfortable during the procedure. After the procedure, the tooth may feel sore or sensitive, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This discomfort can be relieved with over-the-counter or prescription medication. However, if you are experiencing swelling or severe pain, you should contact our office as soon as possible.

How long will the treatment take?

This varies depending on the procedure that needs to be completed, the tooth in question, and the presence of infection or other complications. In general, treatment appointments can range from 45 to 90 minutes in length. Many cases can be treated in a single visit; however more complicated cases typically require an additional appointment.

I'm worried about X-rays. Should I be?

No. While x-rays will be necessary during your endodontics treatment, we use an advanced non-film computerized system, called digital radiography, that produces radiation levels up to 90 percent lower than those of already low dose conventional dental x-ray machinery. These digital images can be optimized, archived, printed and sent to other doctors involved with your care via e-mail or CD-ROM.

What happens after treatment?

When your root canal therapy has been completed, a summary of your treatment will be sent to your general dentist. You should contact their office for a permanent restoration (crown and core) within 2- 4 weeks of completion at their office. Your general dentist will decide on what type of restoration is necessary to protect your tooth.