What Is a Root Canal: Everything You Need to Know

A root canal treatment is just one of the many dental procedures performed to keep your teeth healthy. It is a form of restorative care performed if bacteria have infected the pulp of the natural tooth. Even though this procedure is sometimes costly and complex, doing so will prevent you from having to replace your tooth in the long run, since infection in your tooth might spread to other parts of your body and cause serious health complications if left untreated.

Most root canal treatments can be completed in one dental clinic visit, but sometimes more than one is necessary. As soon as you notice any signs or symptoms of a dental infection, you should seek treatment as quickly as possible. However, you should first consult your dentist to determine whether or not root canal treatment is appropriate for you. 

If you’re considering getting one done, continue reading for more information about what they are and how they work.

What Is a Root Canal?

In each root of your tooth, you’ll find a root canal system. A root canal infection can irreparably damage a tooth if left untreated. The infection may spread to other body parts. 

Pain in the teeth may not just cause discomfort, but it might also indicate that a problem is present. In the past, if the pulp tissue died due to damage and disease, the tooth was extracted. However, a root canal procedure is a life-saving measure for severely damaged teeth. It is usually necessary when the dental pulp inside your tooth becomes inflamed and infected. Deep cavities may cause this, as well as cracked teeth or even fractured teeth if they’ve been chipped.

Although this process can be painful, it is necessary for many people if they wish to preserve their teeth. Additionally, a general dentist or an endodontist specialising in treating teeth from the inside can perform this endodontic treatment. 

How Does a Root Canal Work?

A Root canal treatment, also known as root filling, is a common dental procedure that involves drilling deep into a tooth to remove decay and infection. An opening is created, allowing permanent filling materials to be placed inside, locking out all of the damaging germs outside. The opening is then sealed off and filled in to prevent food particles or germs from entering your body through it.

Root canal procedures sometimes require three dental visits, usually taking 30 to 90 minutes to complete each appointment, depending on the circumstances.

In the first visit, your endodontist will take x-rays to diagnose the infection in your tooth and numb it for proper extraction of the infected pulp. Once that is done, a medicated substance called gutta-percha is inserted inside the root canal to heal and inhibit reinfection.

At the second appointment, your dental specialist will carefully clean and seal the root canal to prepare it for the dental crown placed on your third visit. Now your teeth are restored and back to their normal function.

What Is a Tooth Pulp?

An integral part of each tooth is the pulp, which is composed of nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels. The pulp supplies teeth with nutrients during the formation of their root structures.

Dentin is the soft tissue beneath the enamel layer. It is home to a sensitive and vital part of your mouth called the dental pulp chamber, the sensitive centre of a tooth. It has a gel-like texture that is made of 75% water and 25% organic materials. The dentin acts as hard tissue and surrounds it. Inside the pulp is where you can find the nerves and blood vessels.

When a tooth pulp is infected, its nerves are responsible for the sensation of pain. It can be challenging to know if you have an infection in your tooth until symptoms emerge, such as extreme sensitivity or a lack of pain sensation due to dead nerve cells. 

The Common Signs and Symptoms You Need a Root Canal

Unlike infections elsewhere in the body, the progression of an infected root canal is usually gradual because it often begins with tooth decay and progresses to pulpitis. As long as the crown is still intact, a root canal can be an option for treating an infected pulp. Consequently, removing the unhealthy pulp will preserve the structure of the tooth.

A toothache could be a sign of infection, especially if you are experiencing pain while eating. At some point, however, you might notice that symptoms of an infection may disappear, such as pain or sensitivity. Nevertheless, this does not mean the infection has been eradicated; it simply means that the nerves in your tooth have been destroyed, so you are no longer able to feel it.

A root canal may be necessary if you experience the following symptoms:

Swollen Gums Around the Infected Tooth 

In some cases, gum swelling indicates that root canal therapy might be necessary. 

Moreover, swelling may occur at various times, and it may or may not be painful to touch. It occurs when dead pulp tissues expel acidic wastes, which can cause edema around the tooth’s root tip. However, any type of swelling should always be checked out by your dentist as soon as possible.

Swelling in Your Face 

An infection at the base of a tooth can be painful and sometimes debilitating. A Dental abscess occurs due to bacteria that creates pus around your tooth roots in the jaw bone if left untreated. As a result, you may also develop facial cellulitis, which causes your face to swell up fast. 

This infection occurs when bacteria enter the pulp of a tooth, which may happen if you have a cracked tooth or cavity that has gone untreated.


When bacteria form on the teeth, they can cause an infection. This results in a pocket of pus called an abscess that is painful and uncomfortable to deal with. In addition, abscesses can form in different areas of the tooth, depending on the cause. A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of a root, while periodontal abscess forms at the side of a root.

Discolouration of The Tooth 

Your teeth may become discoloured due to a pulp infection. The tooth roots can be damaged in various ways. The most common is trauma to the teeth or tissue breakdown, which results in greyish-black discolouration. It is always best to consult your dentist if you notice that the colour of your teeth has changed.

How Long Does Root Canal Treatment Take?

Usually, a single root canal treatment takes between thirty minutes and an hour to complete. However, depending on how complicated or how many teeth are involved in the procedure, you may need to come in for two or more visits.

The length of a root canal treatment depends on several factors, including:

  • The location of the tooth and the number of teeth are to be treated.
  • The degree of infection
  • Tools that the dentist has to use

Before you begin treatment, talk with your dentist about your need for a root canal so you know what to expect and how long the procedure will take. As modern techniques evolve, dentists can now provide root canal treatment in a short time and with the least amount of pain.

How Long Does the Root Canal Treatment Last?

Endodontics is a popular dental practice with an 85% success rate. Also, it can last for a decade if the patient maintains excellent dental hygiene. Many people go on to have their teeth worked by an endodontist for a lifetime. Moreover, for people who use tobacco products, giving up smoking will help improve the health and condition of your teeth as well as prolong any dental work you’ve already had done.

Moreover, it’s not uncommon for people to experience tooth pain years after a root canal. If you have lingering discomfort, it may be desirable to perform an evaluation and re-treatment to improve the health of your teeth.

Additionally, you may experience tooth discolouration if you undergo root canal therapy, but modern endodontic techniques reduce the likelihood. Suppose this happens to a front tooth, in particular. In that case, you may want to whiten your teeth chemically, so they are not as noticeable.

Root Canal Procedure

Root infections can be devastating. When repeated restorative procedures have been performed, root infection becomes much more likely to happen when crowns are left loose or have faulty fillings. It creates more complications if you endure trauma or an accident that cracks the enamel surface and lets bacteria seep in.

  • Preparation

After the evaluation and the treatment plan have been laid out, the endodontist will numb the tooth using a local anesthetic. It ensures you go through the procedure without feeling any pain.

Your dentist will place a rubber dam to isolate the infected tooth during treatment to keep it dry and clean.

Aside from protecting the inside of the tooth from your saliva, it also serves as a cover so you won’t choke if some debris or tool falls into your mouth.

  • Opening the Tooth

The dental professional will drill a hole through the top or back of your front tooth to get into the pulp and root inside. The dentist then removes all the damaged and dead tissues using tiny endodontic files.

Root canals are often curved and thin, so it’s pretty challenging and time-consuming for the dentist to see the inside of the tooth. They use special microscopes and light to locate the infected tooth pulp and take out every last piece. In addition, it is at this point that the tooth abscess in the tooth root will be drained.

  • Cleaning

To ensure your teeth are thoroughly cleaned, your dentist uses both sterile water and antibacterial solutions. Your dentist squirts a disinfecting fluid into your mouth and sucks it back out numerous times to make sure the whole area is sterile.

  • Root Shaping

Root canals are difficult to fill due to their irregular shape and narrow size, so one of the essential steps in the treatment is shaping them. It is done to ensure all the infected tissue is removed from the canal and provide enough space for the root filling.

A traditional hand-held file is laborious and demands multiple dental appointments. Nevertheless, most dentists now use rotary tools that deliver better results quickly and efficiently.

  • Root Filling

In cases where the treatment is too complicated to finish in one session, the dentist will saturate the roots with medication to eliminate any lingering bacteria. A temporary filling would be applied to shield the teeth, so they don’t get infected before returning at a later date when the entire dental work is completed.

Immediately after the root canals have been cleaned and widened, they will be permanently filled with a thermoplastic material that softens when heated, so it fits perfectly inside the tooth. However, an infection can recur if the filling doesn’t fill the canal and cover the entire cavity.

Dentists can now seal the roots of teeth with dental fillings, just as they do for other parts of your mouth.

Who Performs a Root Canal


Endodontics is a branch of dentistry that deals with the treatment of dental pulp diseases. Endodontists specialise in performing treatments for dental pulp diseases. These specialists perform about 25 root canals per day and often work closely with other dental professionals, like general practitioners or orthodontists.

Endodontists are some of the most skilled dental doctors. They use state-of-the-art technology to provide safe and effective treatments. Endodontic specialists spend many years in training before they can practice with precision as well as technical expertise.

General Dentist

General dentists perform root canals as well. However, these procedures are not their specialty because they do not undergo the requisite endodontic treatment training.

The numbers vary across the board, but on average, a general dentist only performs about two root canals per day. They are just not equipped for the workload as endodontists would be.

What to Expect After the Root Canal Treatment

When it comes to after-care for an endodontic procedure, make sure you follow the instructions from your dentist. Although there are general guidelines, the specific instructions provided by your doctor are what matter.

You will be advised to take pain medication and maintain an excellent oral hygiene routine. As for eating, you’ll have to wait until the numbness subsides before putting any food into your mouth. It’s also advisable not to use the tooth that has been treated until it has been completely restored, as this could lead to further damage.

In addition, mild soreness and tenderness in the region during root canal recovery time is expected. Still, endodontists recommend contacting them as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms for a more extended period of time:

  • If the pain or pressure lasts more than a couple of days,
  • Swelling around the mouth
  • Allergic reaction to your prescription medication
  • If your temporary crown gets loose or the dental filling falls off,
  • Bite problem
  • Having similar symptoms to those you had before your root canal treatment

Cost of Root Canal in Australia

In Australia, dental procedures are expensive. The procedure cost can depend on the number of root canals and whether you need a crown to complete the process.

As stated in the 2020 national dental fee survey, the average cost of a root canal procedure in Australia without a crown ranges between $2,000 and $3,400. However, if it is a molar tooth with three canals, it could cost around $2,760 without a crown and up to $4,760 with a crown.

Do Health Funds Cover Root Canal Treatment?

Typically, extras in Australia do not cover root canal procedures. It is often difficult to find an insurance provider that covers this treatment. To have dental treatments covered, you need to upgrade your policy with a high level of extra coverage, including basic dental care like check-ups, but excluding major procedures such as tooth extractions and root canal therapy. 

However, carefully read through the coverage documentation and call the insurance company to confirm if your dental insurance covers root canals.

Does Medicare Cover the Cost of a Root Canal?

Medicare does not cover the cost of dental services like it would for other health-related matters. People interested in getting their teeth checked out will find themselves paying for this service as Medicare only pays for some essential treatments for those eligible to receive them.

Factors That Can Affect the Cost of Root Canal Therapy

  • Location of the Infected Tooth: 

According to the American Association of Endodontists, one of the main factors is the location of the tooth that needs to be repaired. If the infected tooth is in one of your front teeth, it will be less expensive to treat. The front teeth only have a single root, while the molars have three. Therefore, more roots mean more work for your dentist and a higher price.

  • Geographical Location: 

If you live in a big city, the cost of dental care may be higher than average. The region your country is located in will also determine how much it’ll set you back to get your teeth restored and feel better about yourself again.

  • The Severity of Tooth Problems:

Another factor that impacts the cost of a root canal is the severity of the cavity and the procedures that need to be done to repair it successfully. Suppose you visit your dentist right away when you experience tooth sensitivity. In that case, the infection will most likely be minor, and it’s easier for the dentist to make a hole to remove the dead tissue and fill up the chamber. If you delay seeking treatment, an infection may worsen and become more challenging to treat, or more dental work needs to be done, adding up to the total bill.

Ways to save on a Root Canal Procedure

  • Joining a dental discount plan is the easiest way to save money on any dentistry, from routine teeth cleanings and check-ups to emergency root canals.

These programs have established networks of experienced dentists that give reduced dental care prices to cardholders. When you buy a dental savings card, any dental procedures you need will be discounted.

  • Smile.com.au is taking dental coverage to the next level with their dental coverage that could save you up to 40% at any one of their smile.com.au dentists across Australia for the price of just $100 per year. Their dentists provide treatment for every visit, regardless of when or how many times you come in.

Smile.com.au dental cover is straightforward because it is not a health insurance plan with any restrictions, exclusions, or waiting periods; instead, you can find the coverage that best suits your needs. Therefore, you’ll get all the features and none of the restrictions.

Root Canal FAQ’s

Is Root Canal Painful?

Patients often worry that root canal treatment will be painful and may delay treatment because of fear. Dentists use modern anesthetic technology so that most procedures can be executed without feeling any discomfort. It will feel much like any regular filling, except that it will just take a little longer to complete. Moreover, your jaw may feel stiff for some time due to the time you kept your mouth open.

Before the dentist starts your treatment, you will be given anesthesia and made aware that during more extended treatments, more may be needed. You can signal to your dentist if you start to feel uncomfortable at any time before treatment is completed by giving a hand gesture.

Many patients are so anxious about dental treatments that they request intravenous sedatives. These don’t put you to sleep like a general anesthetic would, but instead will relax you deeply enough that you barely remember the experience.

How to Manage Pain after Root Canal Surgery

After a root canal, you won’t feel any discomfort, but your teeth will be sensitive or swollen for at least several days. If this is the case, you can take ibuprofen or paracetamol to ease any pain.

Until the tooth has healed completely, it is best to abstain from chewing anything that could hurt or further tear the pulp of your mouth. You should eat easy-to-chew foods to avoid pain in your treated teeth, and it will also help your mouth get back to normal.

However, consult your dentist immediately if you still experience severe pain after taking painkillers or if your symptoms get worse a few days after your root canal. It is a sign of unsuccessful treatment, and you may need more dental work.

Risk of Root Canal Treatment

A Root canal is one of the most common dental procedures performed today. Even so, not all teeth are perfect, and sometimes even the best-trained dentists can not save a tooth that has been severely damaged because of severe tooth decay or unsound enamel.

An abscess could also form at the root of your tooth. It would be because some of the infected pulp was left behind or the prescribed antibiotics were not effective.

If you’re not up for a root canal, your dentist might suggest an extraction. It usually involves placing a partial denture, bridge, or dental implant to replace the removed tooth.

Alternatives to Root Canal

If you don’t prefer to get a root canal, there are other possible solutions as well.

Dental Implants

An implant is not a replacement for root canals; instead, it’s only an option if tooth extraction has already taken place. Root-canal procedures preserve the teeth. If you get one, there is no need for an implant or replacement tooth. Root canals are an often preferred tooth treatment option by dentists because they are the best way to maintain oral health and keep your natural teeth intact.


Most patients wonder which procedure is better: an extraction or a root canal. Many go so far as to believe it is easier to get the tooth pulled when they may have been able to save it with a root canal. The truth is, getting teeth extracted should be considered only in desperate situations since there are many more advanced treatments available today than ever before. Missing teeth cause oral health problems that range from bone degradation to the loss of facial structure. When your dentist recommends you need an extraction, ask them why they can’t do a root canal instead. Root canals save teeth and decrease the risk of bone decay or impaired eating.

When you’ve been told that a root canal can’t save your tooth and it needs to be extracted entirely, ask your dentist about what options are available for creating a replacement. While implants cost the most upfront, they offer more long-term satisfaction because of their stability.

Symptoms of a Failed Root Canal

A Root canal failure is more likely to cause deteriorating symptoms around the previous treatment site, such as tooth pain and gum sensitivity.

  • Swelling: Although typical for several days, you experience swelling and pain. If that does not subside or increase in severity, you should contact your dentist.
  • Tooth pain when biting: It’s normal to have some discomfort, pain, or tenderness in your teeth after a root canal. But if you continue feeling any of these things when biting down, it may be because the cap was not smoothed enough or is coming loose. You should call your dentist as soon as possible so they can fix it.
  • Tooth pain months after the treatment: If you’ve had a root canal, it’s possible your tooth may not heal correctly or have any fractures. If you’re experiencing pain months after the treatment was done, get in touch with your dentist immediately.
  • Infection: If the root canal pain continues to worsen for more than a week, call the dentist as it is a possible sign of an infection, and you should contact your dentist right away.

What Can I Eat after Root Canal Surgery?

After the procedure, you will need to avoid cold food because it can cause pain or discomfort in your teeth. It’s also best to avoid hot beverages and soups until the numbness goes away or the sensitivity disappears, as they can irritate your mouth and cause pain. Additionally, you should avoid chewing hard foods or sugary foods until you’ve healed.

Following endodontic treatment, it is crucial not to eat hard foods or chew a lot, as they may cause the crown or filling to lose its integrity.

Patients can typically eat soft foods. However, it is best to use the unaffected side of your mouth when eating.

These are some of the foods you could eat after the dental procedure:

  • Dairies like yogurt and soft cheeses
  • Pureed vegetables or fruits
  • Smoothies and fruit shakes
  • Soft fruits such as bananas, mangoes, peaches, and avocados
  • Mashed potatoes or baked sweet potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Canned tuna or chicken
  • Legumes like beans, lentils, and split peas
  • Grains like couscous, quinoa, pasta, and oatmeal
  • Hummus
  • Tofu
  • Nut butter

Can I smoke after a Root Canal?

It’s crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle after getting root canal treatment because it will help you recover and prevent other health conditions in your mouth.

Following the procedure, you will need time to recover. Smoking will jeopardise that recovery process. There is no doubt that smoking is detrimental to your health in many ways, including dental health.

There is no set timeline, but the patient should abstain from smoking for some time, as the mouth is numb and sensitive after the procedure.

Follow your dentist’s instructions regarding when you can engage in actions concerning your mouth.

Can I drive after my root canal treatment?

You should be able to drive home after a root canal if you haven’t had sedation. If you’ve had any type of sedation, someone else will need to drive you home.

Most patients are not put under during a root canal, but let your endodontist know ahead of time if you would like to be sedated.

Benefits of Root Canal

Root canal treatment usually causes little to no pain and provides many benefits, including:

  • Inhibits Spread of Infection to Other Teeth

Infection typically causes a toothache. Root canal therapy removes these infections, which allows a pain-free life for the patient.

Once the bacteria is eliminated from beneath the tooth, it will be cleaned and disinfected. Treating infected teeth will stop the growth of bacteria that causes toothache.

A successful treatment eradicates the bacteria beneath the surface of a tooth, thus preventing bacterial infection from spreading to adjacent teeth and stopping future pain and tooth decay.

  • Preserves the Tooth Structure of the Tooth and Natural Smile

Root canal therapy is a dental solution to save your teeth when none of the other solutions works. Your tooth will be restored and function like any other tooth once it’s finished.

  • It keeps the jawbone healthy.

When teeth are repaired through root canal treatment, the jawbone remains stable. It helps to prevent degeneration and gum disease over time. When a tooth is lost, it can be difficult for the jaws and muscles to keep up with the changes in gum line placement or alignment of other teeth in adjacent bones.

  • Maintains Oral Health and Normal Function of Teeth

If you have an infected tooth, it can affect your health and that of your whole body. Keeping your teeth healthy can lead to better overall health, which is why you should always make appointments with dentists for regular check-ups and treatment.

Are You Awake During the Root Canal Procedure?

Root canals are often performed on conscious patients. The dentist will numb the teeth and gums with local anesthesia before performing any work so that you won’t feel anything during the procedure.

Suppose the root canal procedure is more complicated. In that case, your dentist may use sedation wherein you are put to sleep during treatment.

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Peel Dental Studio


Dr. Bailey formerly served on the Australian Dental Association as President, Vice President Treasurer and Country Councillor. He was on the Australian Dental Association Federal Council and has always been keen to give back to the profession that has been his life. He has tutored student dentists at the Oral Health Centre in Perth.