How long does a root canal take?

How long does a root canal take?

Root canals are right up there with the fear of heights, shark bites, and not being in range of a Starbucks midday. Many people fear root canals because they “think” they are painful during or after. When a patient needs a root canal the first question they ask is how long does a root canal take. And invariably, that question is followed by a second, what is the level of pain after the root canal?

How long does a root canal take?

Most of the time, the root canal is done in a single appointment of more or less 90 minutes. In front teeth having one root and one canal can be done in a short time of less than an hour, however in multirooted molar root canal treatment can take a longer time of 90 minutes or more.

Most dentists perform root canal in one visit however in some cases, the dentist injects a drug solution into the canal to kill the bacteria causing the infection. A second visit should then be made a week or two later, after the infection has cleared, so that the dentist can complete the treatment.

Well, we are fortunate to live in the modern day. Gone are those memories of old movie scenes of long root canal procedures. With the recent advancement in dental technology, the procedure is typically completed in one dental visit. Most simple root canal procedures take about 30 to 60 minutes of treatment. Although a more complex tooth may require more time, up to about 90 minutes.

How is root canal treatment performed?

Contrary to popular belief, a root canal treatment is now usually done in one or two sessions. The duration of these varies depending on the condition of the tooth and its number of canals (roots).

Here, in summary, the steps followed by a dentist, or an endodontist, during such an intervention:

Since a tooth that has undergone root canal treatment can become more fragile and susceptible to breakage, a treatment plan often also includes the placement of a post and crown to strengthen the tooth.

How do I know I need a Root Canal?

What if a cavity progresses deep into a tooth? It eventually reaches the center of the tooth. Now that’s a problem. It’s reached the gateway of the tooth to the rest of the body: the dental pulp. The center of the tooth contains the pulp which is a small canal. The pulp runs along the entire length of the root to the bone.

So if a cavity is left to progress all the way to the pulp, the bacteria of the cavity can then gain access all the way to the bone. That’s when dental infection, or dental abscesses, occur. The pulp of the tooth is also highly innervated and is much more sensitive to irritation than the rest of the tooth.

A tooth that needs a root canal aches with a throbbing type pain for more than a transient period of time. If you bite into something excessively cold and your tooth hurts for a short moment, that’s not what I’m talking about. A tooth in need of a root canal is different.

It’s a persistent throbbing type pain that happens while chewing, due to temperature, and even spontaneously. The pain from a tooth that needs a root canal doesn’t go away when the irritating stimulus is removed. A tooth that needs a root canal can keep a person awake at night.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take If I want Dental Sedation?

I’m a sedation dentist who specializes in putting people to sleep during their procedures. So of course I’m going to share the benefits of sedation dentistry for your root canals. Now not all dentists are trained in sedation dentistry, so you may need to find one who does if the concept appeals to you. But I’ll give you the information you need to see if its for you.

The way sedation dentistry for root canals works is the patient is able to rest comfortably and even sleep during their procedure. The best part about using sedation dentistry for root canals is that many procedures can be completed in a single visit.

Without sedation, the procedure is generally completed by itself with local anesthetic. It’s more comfortable to do one procedure at a time without sedation. However, with sedation dentistry, the treatment becomes more efficient. The procedure can be completed along with any other work recommended in significantly less visits.

With sedation dentistry, the area is still numbed with local anesthetic. You don’t have to worry about waking up in any discomfort. The difference is that you will take an oral medication or receive medications by IV sedation before and during the procedure. The medication will make you calm, relaxed, and will make the procedure seem like it’s 5 minutes, even if it’s much longer.

Is There Pain After Root Canal?

Okay, and now for your final burning question, what about after? Is there pain after a root canal?

Here’s the deal: it depends. And I say that with one caveat: You will have a good sense of how much pain there will be after a root canal based on how much pain there was before.

As a general rule, a tooth that was in pain prior to a root canal will still require some time to heal afterwards, but the pain after will not be worse. The procedure essentially rights the sails. It sets the ship on the right path to healing. That path may take a few more days, but will incrementally heal day by day.

But do teeth that aren’t in pain ever need a root canal? Actually, sometimes yes they do. The circumstance I’m referring to is called a prophylactic root canal. An old filling has a crack, but the filling is deep. Although the tooth is not hurting at the moment, if the dentist goes in to replace the filling, it will be too deep into the tooth to fix with only a filling—so a root canal is recommended.

In these prophylactic root canal cases, there generally is little to no pain after the procedure. There may be minor soreness or sensitivity, but it generally will not be the up-all-night kind of pain.

How do I know if Some Pain After Is Normal?

Keep track of your recovery day by day after a root canal to check for improvement.

Generally by 1 week after the procedure, the majority of any pain and swelling should subside but the area may be slightly tender to touch for a few weeks afterward. If you feel like your swelling or pain was getting better and then worsened suddenly, that’s a good indication to follow up with the doctor who completed your root canal.

What can I take for Pain After Root Canal?

Follow the instructions of your doctor, but here’s what you can anticipate for medication after a root canal. You will typically be recommended over the counter medication like Tylenol, ibuprofen, or naproxen. If there is swelling or the procedure was complex, your doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic to help the healing and may prescribe you a prescription-strength pain reliever.

After a root canal, you can also help to manage the pain by applying warm compresses to the area periodically the first few days. You should also try to sleep elevated if you have any swelling. Sleeping elevated will help the swelling to subside.

How to Prevent a Root Canal

Before we can even think about how long does a root canal take, we should talk about how to prevent them in the first place.

Teeth are like icebergs. What we see in the mouth is just the tip of the iceberg. In the case of teeth, the tip of the iceberg is called the crown of the tooth. Yet there is much more that lies remain the surface. The part of the tooth below the gumline is called the root of the tooth.

One of the most common reasons a root canal is needed is because of a cavity. There are other reasons, but by in large, the biggest reason is because of cavities. In fact, to put it in perspective, tooth decay is four times more common than asthma among adolescents aged 14 to 17 years. The technical term for cavities is dental decay.

When people think of cavities they generally know that a filling may be needed. The concept is simple. The dentist removes the bacteria weakened part of the tooth and restores it with a solid filling. That’s the best prevention of a root canal.

Even those who take good care of their teeth sometimes need root canal treatment. But there are four ways to reduce the risk of having to undergo such treatment:

If, despite all these precautions, you need root canal treatment, don't panic. It is a safe and very effective treatment in the vast majority of cases.


Den Tim

Practicing Dentistry for 20 years