Dentist Holding Large Photoshopped Tooth with Red Nerves

What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?

Rarely is there a dental procedure more feared or dreaded than a root canal. Just the thought of someone touching the nerve area of a tooth may have you searching for an excuse to delay it from happening. Yet, it is a procedure that often needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Knowing what happens during a root canal procedure can help ease some of your anxiety. Whether one is needed to save your natural tooth or to prepare for a dental crown, the procedure is the same. Knowing the advantage to having one can also ease your nerves and help you focus on the outcome.

What Is a Root Canal Procedure?

When an infection occurs deep inside the root of a tooth, called the canal, a procedure is needed to cure the infection. This treatment, also referred to as an endodontic treatment, removes infected or inflamed tissue within the canals.

The tissue, called pulp, is an essential part of the life of your tooth, containing nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. When it becomes infected, however, it ceases to provide any benefit to your tooth and removal is necessary.

Most procedures take approximately 90 minutes to complete but can depend on your particular circumstances and needs. For instance, timing may depend on the curvature of the canals themselves and also the number of canals. Depending on the tooth, it can have one or even four root canals which must be cured.

Factors other than infection that can lead to a root canal are excessive decay or trauma to the tooth and its root.

How can you tell if you might need a root canal? You may experience mild to severe symptoms, including

  • Constant, throbbing pain
  • Pain when chewing or biting down
  • Sensitivity to cold or hot temperatures
  • Swelling in the area of the tooth, included exterior cheek
  • Tender to the touch or swelling of the surrounding lymph nodes

Not only will the procedure alleviate the pain and potential spreading of the infection to bones and other tissue, but it also saves the function and appearance of the tooth itself.

What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?

Prior to your root canal procedure, your dentist will examine x-rays to become familiar with the root canal’s shape. These x-rays can also determine if there is further infection in the surrounding bones. From there, you can expect the following.

Administering a Local Anesthetic

To start, your dentist will administer a local anesthesia to the area of the infected tooth. You’ll feel a slight pitch and possibly some discomfort due to the insertion of the needle. In many instances, the nerve inside the tooth is already dead, and anesthesia may not be necessary.

Placing a Protective Covering

Once full numbness occurs, the dentist will place a small protective sheet, called a dental dam, over the area around the tooth to keep it dry and isolate it from the other teeth.

Drilling An Opening in the Tooth

With the aid of a small device, your dentist will next drill an opening into the top of the tooth for access to the root canals and pulp chamber. Since the area is numb, the most disturbing part of this drilling might be the sound or sensation felt.

Cleaning out the Infected Tissue

Accessing the canal through the newly drilled opening, the removal of infected tissue, or pulp, begins. Your dentist will use a specialized root canal tool similar to a file. Next, the canal is cleansed and disinfected with an antiseptic and antibacterial solution for further treatment and removal of bacteria.

Shaping of the Interior Space

Once the interior space is clean and clear, your dentist will need to shape the canal, preparing it to receive the filling material. A second cleansing occurs once the shaping is complete.

Adding Filling to the Canals

Once the canals are shaped and cleansed, it’s time to add a filling. This filling consists of a biocompatible material and is carefully placed inside the canals and heated. Compressing the filling material to fill up the space prevents gaps from forming.


Once the filling is compacted into the canals, an application of an adhesive cement or paste completes the sealing of the tooth. This additional layer is to prevent bacteria from making their way back into the root canal over time.

Your dentist may also choose to delay the sealing of the tooth, giving the infection time to completely clear. In these instances, you can expect the placement of a temporary filling to protect the tooth until you return for the permanent sealing.

Filling the Tooth Access Point

Since it is necessary to drill through the tooth to get to the root canals, filling that access hole is necessary to protect your tooth against future bacteria. This filling of the tooth access point is the last step of a root canal procedure if the natural tooth is still in good shape.

If your tooth is already damaged and needs support, however, your dentist might add a temporary filling and later insert a post in the canal to make the tooth more stable. The post may also be a precursor to a crown if the natural tooth is too damaged to last long term.

Additional Restoration Measures

As for additional restoration measures, much will depend on the health of the natural tooth itself. If it is decaying or already contains a large filling, you may need a crown or other restorative procedure.

What Happens After the Root Canal Procedure?

Depending upon the level of infection, you may need to take antibiotics following a root canal. In the following days, you can experience slight discomfort, often relieved by an over-the-counter pain medication. All discomfort should subside as the tooth heals.

Your dentist will send you home with post-care instructions and schedule follow-up appointments if you need a crown or other restoration measures.

Make an Appointment Today

At Angela Bateson, DDS, we understand our patient’s apprehension when it comes to dental procedures such as a root canal. While it can be anxiety-inducing, our compassionate team will go the extra mile to make and keep you comfortable throughout the entire procedure.

Whether you are currently suffering from symptoms of a root canal infection or have any other dental need, call our office to schedule an appointment today.

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  1. […] into the jawbone or other location in the body, and to end the pain you experience, the endodontist performs a root canal. An endodontist can also treat dental abscesses with root canal […]