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Root Canal: Purpose, Procedure & Risks

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

A couple of decades ago, any severe toothache or infection usually meant that the tooth had to be extracted, which can be an excruciating process. Luckily, there is another option now by which your natural teeth can be preserved: the Root Canal. This tooth-saving procedure only takes about an hour and can be performed by any general dentist or an endodontist. Root Canal treatment is now a standard procedure for infected teeth or abscesses. It is most commonly a two-step procedure and if performed well, the results may last for the rest of your life. Let’s learn more about it. 




Structure of the tooth

Before learning about the process of a Root Canal, it is important to know about the parts of the tooth.

  1. Enamel

This is the outermost hard white structure that is visible. Enamel is the hardest tissue in the body and it is the reason you are able to bite into hard and crunchy food items and chew them comfortably.


Just below the enamel is a slightly softer tissue called the dentin. The dentin has multiple channels although it is a hard structure. This is why if your enamel is damaged because of cavities, etc., your teeth become a lot more sensitive to hot and cold sensations.

3. Cementum

This is the connective tissue that helps in binding the tooth to the gums.

4. Dental pulp

The part in the centre that contains the blood vessels and nerve to the tooth is the pulp. This is the living, sensitive part of the tooth.

What is a Root Canal?

Root Canal is a procedure in which the soft pulp of the tooth is removed and any infection cleared. In case you have had a cavity for a long time or bacteria somehow enter the inside of your teeth, it can result in severe pain because of infection. As this pulp area is normally a closed space covered by hard dentin and enamel, any swelling causes toothache. The externally visible part of the tooth can continue to remain alive even after the inner pulp is removed. This is exactly what is done in a Root Canal.

Who needs Root Canal treatment?

A Root Canal is needed if the pulp of the tooth is infected or inflamed. This can happen if the overlying protective structures of the tooth are damaged. The most common cause for this is any injury resulting in a crack in the enamel or in a filling or if tooth decay extends deep.

But how would you know if any of this has happened? These are the symptoms to look out for.

  • Severe tooth pain, especially while chewing or biting

  • Swelling or inflammation of the gums

  • Increased tooth sensitivity (lightening pain on eating or drinking hot or cold food items)

  • A visible cavity on the tooth

  • A cracked tooth

How is a Root Canal performed?

A Root Canal is commonly performed by an endodontist or a general dentist. If you visit a dentist with complaints of a toothache, they will first check your teeth and take an X-ray to diagnose the reason for the pain. If an infection is noted in the tooth's pulp, your dentist may recommend a Root Canal.

1. Anaesthesia

A Root Canal is performed under local anaesthesia that is injected into the gums.

2. Removing the infected pulp

Once the numbing effect has set in, your dentist will drill a small hole through the upper layers of the tooth until the pulp is reached. Once the pulp is exposed, specialised surgical instruments are used to clean out the canals.

An antibiotic cream may also be applied to prevent further infections.

3. Placing a temporary filling

The pulp space that has been cleared is replaced by putting a temporary filling. The area must be sealed to prevent infections or damage because of saliva.

4. Tooth restoration

To get your tooth back to how it originally was, your dentist will call you after a few weeks to replace the temporary filling with a permanent crown. These crowns resemble natural teeth closely.

Precautions to take after a Root Canal

Once the Root Canal procedure is complete there are certain instructions that you must follow to ensure that you get optimal results.

  • Do not eat hard or crunchy foods after the procedure. Until you get your permanent crown fitted, your tooth is not completely protected and is susceptible to damage.

  • Continue to brush normally. A lot of the time people are scared and avoid the tooth on which the procedure has been performed. This is unnecessary.

  • Take the antibiotics as prescribed. Often your dentist may suggest a course of antibiotics beginning a day or two before the procedure. This is because the basic problem is most commonly an infection in the tooth that is leading to pain. It is important not to stop the antibiotics abruptly or sooner than recommended.

  • Saltwater gargles after the procedure can be helpful in controlling pain and swelling. This involves adding a pinch of salt to a glass of warm water and swishing it around in the mouth for a minute or so.

The recovery from a Root Canal treatment typically takes only a couple of hours. You can comfortably resume daily life from the next day onwards.

What complications can occur following a Root Canal treatment?

Although getting a Root Canal is a fairly simple process, these are the signs you should look out for if something has gone wrong.

  • Severe pain after the procedure that continues for more than one or two days.

  • Swelling around the gums or lips

  • An uncomfortable sensation when you bite, like something is coming in the way. This is normal for the first few hours but in case you continue to feel it even after brushing a few times your dentist may need to reshape the filling.

  • Any allergic reaction such as hives or severe itching

In all of these conditions, it is advisable to consult your dentist again to make sure your recovery is on track. The most important part after one sitting of the Root Canal is to come back to get a permanent crown fitted. This can be anywhere from a few weeks to six months after the procedure. Failing this, the chances of reinfection are high. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are the answers to some of the common questions related to a Root Canal.


How long does it take to get a Root Canal done?

On average, a Root Canal takes about 30 to 60 minutes in simple cases. However, you will be required to plan a follow-up visit at a later date as well.

How much time after a Root Canal can I eat?

Dentists recommend not eating anything until the effects of the anaesthesia wear off. Roughly, that is about 1 to 2 hours. Even after this time, it is not advisable to eat hard or sticky foods until your permanent crown is set.

Can I brush after getting a Root Canal?

Yes. You can continue brushing your teeth as usual after the procedure is completed. 

Does getting a Root Canal hurt?

Since the process is done under local anaesthesia, it is not very painful. You may continue to experience a numb or tight sensation for a few hours after the procedure. Any pain following the procedure can be easily controlled with painkillers.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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