How Long Does a Root Canal Take in 2022?

Everything you need to know about root canal treatments and more.

When your dentist mentions that you need a root canal, there are probably a number of thoughts running through your head -- starting with what is a root canal? 

Many people are worried that having a root canal performed will be a long, painful experience. Root canals are an important routine procedure that many people have to save a decaying or infected tooth and are worthwhile if your dentist recommends the procedure. 

This article will provide you with everything you need to know about root canal treatments and help you determine whether it’s the right choice for you. After reading this article, we hope you’ll feel more confident in your decision and can contact your local dentist for a root canal consultant. 

What Is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a procedure typically done to restore and save a badly decaying or infected tooth.

Before going into detail on what a root canal is, you first need to understand the make-up of your teeth. There are two main parts, the crown, and the root. 

illustration of the tooth and its parts
To really understand what a root canal is, you need to understand the basic anatomy of your teeth. Specifically, what’s going on under the crown, the area you can see when looking in your mouth. 

The part of the tooth you can see is considered the crown, and the root is below the gum line in the jaw bone. Within the crown of your tooth, there is a pulp chamber. That pulp chamber connects to the root of the tooth. This is what is considered the root canal. 

The root canal contains dental pulp that is made up of nerves and blood vessels.  

A root canal is needed when this pulp tissue becomes infected or when it is anticipated that treating a cavity will cause inflammation. During the procedure, your doctor will remove the affected or infected dental pulp from the canal. 

Who Performs a Root Canal? 

Your general dentist can perform a root canal, or they may refer you to an endodontist. 

An endodontist is a specialty dentist who has completed additional training that focuses on diagnosing tooth pain, root canal, and other treatments related to the tooth’s innervation. 

Signs You Need a Root Canal

To know for sure whether you need a root canal or not can only be determined by your dentist, but there are a few warning signs you might notice. 

diagram that says "5 signs you may need a root canal"
Not sure if you need a root canal? There are a few warning signs you can keep an eye out for to help you determine whether you need to schedule an appointment with your dentist. If you’re experiencing one or multiple of these signs, you may need a root canal. Source: https://overlandparkcosmeticdentist.com/blog/root-canal-symptoms/

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s time to contact your doctor for a check-up. 

Tooth Pain 

While tooth pain doesn’t always mean you need a root canal, you should visit your dentist if it’s constant or reoccurs frequently. When a root canal is required, many people feel the pain deep in the bone of their tooth or in other areas of their face and jaw. 

Temperature Sensitivity

If sensitive teeth are something you experience regularly, this might not be a sign of concern. But, if you notice a lingering dull ache or sharp pains when eating something hot or cold that doesn’t go away once you’ve stopped eating -- this could be a sign you need a root canal. 

Tooth Discoloration

When the pulp of the tooth becomes damaged, which can even be triggered years after a trauma to the tooth, discoloration can occur. If you notice that your tooth has turned a yellow, brown, or pinkish red color, it could indicate that the nerve within the root of your tooth has become damaged. 

Swollen Gums 

Swollen gums are another indicator that something isn’t quite right in your mouth. If you notice that your gums are swollen near the tooth that is bothering you, it’s another sure sign that you should contact your dentist -- even if that swelling seems to come and go. 

Gum Pimples

Another indicator that you may be in need of a root canal is if you start to experience bumps on your gums that resemble pimples. These little bumps may go away and come back, but if they appear consistently, you’ll want to contact your dentist to take a look. 

If you’re experiencing anything out of the ordinary that is causing you pain or discomfort in your mouth, it’s always a good idea to contact your dentist to learn more. Even if it’s simple and doesn’t require a root canal, it’s best to get ahead of the problem before too much damage is done. 

Is a Root Canal Painful? 

Ultimately, the end goal of having a root canal performed is to eliminate pain and stop further damage to your teeth. 

tooth decay and infection illustration and root canal treatment
Having a root canal done won’t hurt any worse than your typical cavity fill, but leaving a decaying or infected tooth will continue to hurt over time. Choosing to have a root canal done will provide you with relief over time and can save your tooth from having to be extracted. 

Many people worry that a root canal will be an extremely painful experience, and while that may have been the case decades ago -- it’s not true today. 

With today’s technology and anesthetic capabilities, a root canal should not be any more painful than your typical cavity fill. 

After your root canal is completed, you can expect to have some mild to moderate discomfort or soreness. You may notice this pain around the tooth that was worked on and in your jaw. This pain should start to dissipate over time and leave you feeling back to your normal self. 

How Long Does a Root Canal Take? 

A root canal procedure generally takes between 30 and 90 minutes. It is quite common for a root canal to take 90+ minutes.

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Sometimes, the treatment is spread out into two separate appointments. One appointment focuses on cleaning the infected nerve out, and the second is to ensure resolution of the infection and seal the tooth. This approach allows the doctor to ensure that the tooth is protected from future damage. 

It can also depend on what tooth you need a root canal on. Some teeth are easier to clean out because they have fewer roots, such as your canine teeth. On the other hand, if the infected tooth is a molar, you should expect it to take longer because they have more roots and can have up to four canals, or even more. 

After your dentist takes a look at your teeth, they should be able to provide you with a general estimate of how long your case will take -- but it’s always best to leave yourself plenty of time and plan to be there for the full 90 minutes. 

What to Expect During a Root Canal

Root canals are routine procedures that your dentist or endodontist typically performs in their office. Your doctor will follow a specific process when performing a root canal, and it is something they’ve likely done many times before. 

root canal treatment diagram
There are a few specific steps your doctor will take when performing your root canal. The process starts by opening the tooth up, cleaning the canals out, filling, and finishing by sealing your tooth for future protection. Source : https://www.news-medical.net/health/Root-Canal-Treatment-Procedure.aspx

When a root canal is performed, your doctor will follow a specific procedure that includes the following steps. 

  1. First, you‘ll have X-rays taken. This will allow your dentist to see the shape of the root canals and determine if there are any signs in the surrounding bone. 
  2. Once your dentist has an idea of what is going on under your crown, you’ll receive local anesthesia to numb the area around the infected tooth.
  3. Next, your dentist will place a sheet of rubber around your tooth to make sure the area stays dry and free of saliva during the procedure.
  4. Your dentist will then drill into your tooth and remove the pulp, bacteria, and decayed parts of your root canal and tooth. Then they will clean out your tooth with a series of root canal files to ensure everything is properly debrided.
  5. If there is an infection in the tooth, your dentist will likely put medication into the tooth to help clean and disinfect it further to avoid further infection.
  6. To fill the root canal, your dentist will first need to shape the canals in preparation for the filling material. Once the canals are prepped, they will insert a rubber-like material into them and make sure they fit snuggly. 
  7. Lastly, the access hole is filled, and if necessary, a crown is added to the top of the tooth to add strength and stability to the tooth. 

Once your root canal is completed, your tooth should begin to hurt less and allow you to go back to your normal routine. 

What to Expect After a Root Canal

After your root canal is completed, you may experience some soreness in the round the tooth that was treated. This should subside over time, and you will start to feel like your normal self again. 

Because a root canal is a procedure to save the existing tooth, it will work and look cosmetically pleasing. This means you won’t have any empty spaces with missing teeth, and you’ll be able to eat and drink normally. It is normal to have tenderness when biting and chewing that can last days to months. No discomfort or sensitivity should occur with temperature following the procedure.

If you find that the tooth you had your root canal performed on is sensitive or uncomfortable more than a few days after your procedure, make sure to contact your doctor to ensure nothing else is going on.

The Success Rates of Root Canals

In most cases, root canals are very successful in saving the natural tooth. 

The success rate for root canal treatment is over 95%, according to Dentistry Today, but that doesn’t mean there are never cases of failure. 

If this does happen, a root canal retreatment will generally solve the problem and can still save your natural tooth.

How Long Will a Root Canal Last? 

This depends on how damaged the tooth was prior to the root canal, the state of the other teeth in the mouth, including the bite and if there are additional stresses from teeth missing, etc.

To make your root canal last as long as possible, you’ll want to continue to practice good dental hygiene. If you do not brush or clean your teeth regularly, it is possible that the tooth with the root canal can still get cavities or become infected in the future. The biggest risk factors are eating hard foods, using teeth as tools, smoking, and consuming sugary or acidic foods, or not having a complete set of fully aligned teeth.

Does Insurance Cover Root Canals? 

To answer this question fully, you’ll have to understand what your individual insurance plan covers.

That being said, most dental insurance providers will help pay for at least a portion of your root canal costs. Some insurance plans will cover up to half of the cost of a root canal, while others cover a lesser amount. 

If you have insurance, you can expect that the cost of your root canal will be somewhat lower.

To understand better what costs you will need to plan for and talk to your local Aspen Dental office to find out pricing and financing options. 

Root Canal Alternatives

Not sure if a root canal is the right option for you? If you’re considering what other options are available to you, here are a few alternative root canal treatment options

If your dentist anticipates a tooth with decay will have a deep filling, indirect pulp capping may be prescribed to minimize sensitivity.

The other alternative to a root canal is to extract the tooth. 

tooth extraction diagram
Extracting an infected or decaying tooth is another option. Many people may choose to opt for a root canal in an effort to save the tooth before choosing to extract it. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/440297301078795098/

If your tooth has extensive damage, this may be the only other alternative outside of a root canal available to you. For most tooth extractions, your general dentist can perform the procedure, but may have an in house oral surgeon perform if it’s a more complex extraction. 

Once the tooth is removed, there are a few options to replace the missing tooth, including: 

  • A dental implant
  • A dental bridge
  • A partial denture

Talking with your dentist will be the best way to determine the best option for your case. But the best route to save your natural tooth will be to have the root canal performed. 

The Benefits of Root Canal Treatment

When compared to the alternative of extracting the tooth, many will choose to have the root canal performed. Luckily, several benefits come with root canal treatments and saving your natural tooth.

  1. Root canals are relatively painless procedures thanks to anesthesia options. Most people feel that a tooth pulled is often considered a more painful experience than a root canal. 
  2. Root canals are a cost-effective option. A tooth extraction will require some form of dental equipment to replace the missing tooth.
  3. Root canals keep your natural tooth intact, which results in a more visually appealing result. 

In most cases, the benefits of having a root canal outweigh the cons. You’ll experience less pain, have a long-lasting solution, and keep your natural tooth. 

How to Prevent Future Root Canals

Once your tooth has reached the point of needing a root canal, you’ll need treatment to address the problem -- but that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid needing future root canals on other teeth if they aren't already decayed to that point. 

To avoid needing additional root canals in the future, you’ll want to follow a few basic steps, including the following. 

Maintaining Good Dental Hygiene 

You should be brushing your teeth at least twice a day. In addition to brushing, you should also floss your teeth at least once a day. Then adding in a quick rinse with mouthwash will just top off your daily cleaning routine. 

Keeping on top of your dental hygiene is one of the most effective ways to prevent the need for root canals in the future. A clean mouth will be less prone to having tooth inflammation, decay, and infection. 

Watch What You Eat

Some foods and drinks are more acidic than others. These types of foods can cause your enamel to weaken and offer a good place for bacteria to grow. 

This also goes for sugary foods and drinks. Foods with high amounts of sugar can cause bacteria to grow that will lead to tooth decay and may require you to have a root canal to fix. It’s best to stick to fresh fruits rather than other sugary snacks. 

Drink plenty of water. If your mouth becomes dry, it can also result in bacteria growth. So make sure to keep your water intake up to keep your entire body, including your mouth, healthy. 

If you’re looking to keep root canals out of your future plans, then taking care of your dental hygiene and avoiding acidic and sugary foods is a must. With the right preventative care, you’ll only have to call your dentist to schedule your annual check-up, not for an emergency visit due to pain. 

Most importantly, frequent check-ups to treat cavities when they are small to achieve higher success rates.

Is a Root Canal Right For You? 

Now that you know how long a root canal takes and what your alternative options are, is a root canal right for you? 

If you’re looking for a way to cure a painful tooth and keep your natural tooth intact, then you’ll want to contact your dentist to schedule an appointment today. They can tell you what the best options for your scenario are and help you determine the next steps in your treatment plan. 

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