What is a Root Canal?
Root canal therapy, simply referred to as a root canal, is treatment for the dental pulp of a tooth that is inflamed, infected, or dead.
Dental pulp is a soft substance in the center of a tooth that contains the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue. The pulp chamber is the hollow part in the center of a tooth that contains the pulp, and which continues down canals that extend through the roots of teeth and into the surrounding bone.
Why Might a Root Canal Become Necessary?
There are a variety of ways that the pulp in your tooth can be injured:
- A deep cavity
- Repeated dental procedures
- A cracked or fractured tooth
When these conditions go untreated the pulp of a tooth can die, and inflammation and infection can spread into the bone supporting the root(s) of a tooth. When this happens, you may experience pain and swelling, and a dental abscess may form.
Once an infection develops, you are at risk of losing your tooth completely if left untreated.
What’s Involved in the Root Canal Procedure?
A root canal is a significant procedure. It’s not something done as part of your regular dental checkup, and may require multiple appointments to complete.
Your dentist may perform the procedure, or you may be referred to an endodontist (a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of the dental pulp).
The Root Canal Procedure: Before, During, and After
Before treatment, your dentist will:
- Take x-rays to get a clear view of your tooth and the surrounding bone.
- Numb the area, including your tooth, with local anesthetic.
- Put a thin sheet of rubber over your tooth to keep it dry, clean, and protected during the procedure.
During treatment, your dentist will:
- Create an opening in the top of your tooth.
- Remove the tooth's pulp from inside the tooth and in the areas in the root (known as the root canal).
- Clean inside the tooth and each root canal.
- Fill the root canals with a rubber-like material to seal against future infection.
- Place a temporary filling in the tooth for protection until a permanent filling or crown can be placed at the earliest opportunity.
- You may have some sensitivity in the repaired area for a few days. Ask your dentist how to best manage any potential discomfort.
- Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics if the infection caused significant swelling in your jaw.
- Follow up with your dentist if you have any problems.
At your follow up visit your dentist will replace the temporary filling with a permanent one, or will begin the process of making a crown (cap) for your tooth. A metal or plastic post might be placed in the root canal to help keep the permanent filling material in place. With proper care, your restored tooth should continue to function as normal for years to come.
As always, brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss at least once a day, and keep up those regular dental checkups.
Are Root Canals Covered by Dental Insurance? And How Much Do They Cost?
The majority of our dental plans cover root canals as a Class II, or restorative, benefit.
Are you a Delta Dental member? Create or sign in to your MySmile® account to view your coverage and get personalized out-of-pocket cost estimates.
Shopping for dental coverage? We offer 5 individual plans designed to meet any smile's needs or budget.