Frequently Asked Questions

We answer some common questions about root canal treatment.

Root Canals - Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is endodontics?

    “Endo” is the Greek word for “inside” and “odont” is Greek for “tooth.” Endodontic treatment treats the inside of the tooth. Root canal treatment is one type of endodontic treatment. 

    To understand endodontic treatment, it helps to know something about the anatomy of the tooth. Inside the tooth, under the white enamel and a hard layer called the dentin, is a soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue and creates the surrounding hard tissues of the tooth during development.

    The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the roots where it connects to the tissues surrounding the root. The pulp is important during a tooth’s growth and development. However, once a tooth is fully mature it can survive without the pulp, because the tooth continues to be nourished by the tissues surrounding it.

  • Why would I need an endodontic procedure?

    Endodontic treatment is necessary when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, an injury to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess.

  • What are the signs of needing endodontic treatment?

    Signs to look for include pain, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, tenderness to touch and chewing, discoloration of the tooth, and swelling, drainage and tenderness in the lymph nodes as well as nearby bone and gum tissues. Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms.

  • How does endodontic treatment save the tooth?

    We remove the inflamed or infected pulp, carefully cleans and shapes the inside of the root canal, then fills and seals the space. Afterwards, you will return to your dentist, who will place a crown or other restoration on the tooth to protect and restore it to full function. After restoration, the tooth continues to function like any other tooth.

  • How many appointments will I need?

    Every case is different and, depending on the complexity, you may need more than one appointment, which is the norm. We will assess your condition and ensure there is sufficient tooth available to make treatment viable. During the appointment the inside of the tooth is cleaned out and filled. If a severe infection is present a dressing will be placed inside the tooth and you will return a week or two later for the completion of the root canal treatment. The root canal treatment will give you immediate relief from pain. We will clearly outline your treatment following our initial assessment of your case.

  • Will I feel pain during or after the procedure?

    Many endodontic procedures are performed to relieve the pain of toothaches caused by pulp inflammation or infection. With modern techniques and anaesthetics, most patients report that they are comfortable during the procedure. We strive to make the treatment as comfortable as possible.

    For the first few days after treatment, your tooth may feel sensitive, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This discomfort can be relieved with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Follow our instructions carefully.

    Your tooth may continue to feel slightly different from your other teeth for some time after your endodontic treatment is completed. However, if you have severe pain or pressure or pain that lasts more than a few days, call us.

  • I am anxious for the treatment; how can you help me?

    If you have a dental phobia or are nervous or anxious in any way, please feel free to speak to us about your concerns. We have a great deal of experience dealing with anxious patients, and can discuss additional relaxation methods if required.

  • Is root canal treatment a safe and effective procedure?

    It was once thought that root canal treatments contributed to the occurrence of illness and disease in the body. This claim – which emerged in the early 1900s – has since been proven to be untrue. Root canal treatments carried out by experienced Endodontists, using the latest techniques and materials, do not cause illness, and there is a wealth of clinical evidence to support this claim.

  • Are there any other treatment options?

    Again this will depend on the case, but one option is to have the tooth extracted. Although some patients prefer this, we always recommend keeping as many of your natural teeth as possible. We will inform you of all your options at your initial consultation.

  • Why do I need another endodontic procedure?

    As occasionally happens with any dental or medical procedure, a tooth may not heal as expected after initial treatment for a variety of reasons, or a new problem can jeopardise a successfully-treated tooth:

    • Narrow or curved canals were not treated during the initial procedure

    • Complicated canal anatomy went undetected in the first procedure

    • The placement of the crown or other restoration was delayed following the endodontic treatment

    • The restoration did not prevent salivary contamination to the inside of the tooth

    • New decay can expose the root canal filling material to bacteria, causing a new infection in the tooth

    • A loose, cracked or broken crown or filling can expose the tooth to new infection

    • A tooth sustains a fracture

  • Is retreatment the best choice for me?

    Whenever possible, it is best to save your natural tooth. Retreated teeth can function well for years, even for a lifetime. Advances in technology are constantly changing the way root canal treatment is performed, so we may use new techniques that were not available when you had your first procedure. We may be able to resolve your problem with retreatment but, as with any dental or medical procedure, there are no guarantees. We will discuss your options and the chances of success before beginning retreatment.

  • What are the alternatives to retreatment?

    If nonsurgical retreatment is not an option, then endodontic surgery should be considered. This surgery involves making an incision to allow access to the tip of the root. Endodontic surgery may also be recommended in conjunction with retreatment or as an alternative. We will discuss your options and recommend appropriate treatment.

  • What are the alternatives to endodontic treatment, retreatment and/or endodontic surgery?

    Though endodontic procedures are intended to help save your tooth, this is not always possible. The only other alternative is extraction of the tooth. Missing teeth can make you self-conscious, affect your ability to bite and chew, cause other healthy teeth to shift and have a negative impact on your overall health. For these reasons, the extracted tooth should be replaced with an artificial one.

  • Are there any other options?

    For replacement of an extracted tooth, you may also consider a bridge or removable partial denture. These options require additional dental procedures on adjacent healthy teeth, and should be discussed with your dentist or specialist.

  • Who performs the procedures?

    All dentists, including your general dentist, received training in endodontic treatment in dental school. However, they often refer patients with diseased teeth to specialists in endodontics for evaluation and treatment.

    Specialists in Endodontics are dentists with special training in endodontic procedures and are included on the General Dental Council endodontic specialist registry. Specialist Endodontists are uniquely qualified to evaluate whether your tooth can be saved, and to help you decide which option is best for you.

  • How do I make a choice?

    Research has proven that endodontic treatment and dental implants are equally successful. Therefore, it is recommended that you start by trying to save your natural tooth, as nothing looks, feels or functions like it. If, for whatever reason, healing does not occur, then treatment with a dental implant is an excellent backup plan.

    Ultimately, your treatment decision should be based on a strategy you have discussed with your dental team (your dentist, endodontic specialist and/or other specialists), and that you agree is best for your overall health.