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Home Knowledge CenterWhen Do You Need a Root Canal Procedure?

When Do You Need a Root Canal Procedure?

When your tooth is infected or decayed, your dentist may recommend a root canal procedure. But what is a root canal, and how do you know if you need one? Take a look at this guide to learn more about root canals.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a type of oral surgery procedure that cleans out decay in an infected tooth, with the goal of preventing further decay. General dentists or root canal specialists (also known as endodontists) perform these procedures. During a root canal, your dentist will extract the decay from the tooth pulp, clean the tooth with antibiotics, and seal the exposed area.

Which dental issues require a root canal?

There are several dental-related signs and symptoms that you might need a root canal. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, your dentist will be able to provide the best diagnosis. They can help determine if you need a root canal, or if your pain or symptoms are being caused by some other issue.

Toothaches and pain

If you have persistent or recurring tooth pain, you may need a root canal. The pain may be felt deep in your tooth or display as “referred” pain in your jaw or face. Tooth pain can have many causes, so be sure to ask your dentist if you’re concerned.

Sensitivity to heat or cold

Do you experience tooth pain when you eat hot food or drink a cold beverage? Whether the pain is dull or sharp, it could indicate that your tooth’s nerves are infected or damaged.

Tooth darkening or discoloration

Does your tooth have a grayish-black appearance? There’s a chance it’s caused by tooth damage. Talk to your dentist if you’re concerned about tooth discoloration.

Gum tenderness

If your gums feel tender or swollen, it may be a sign that you have an infection. This infection could require a root canal to ensure it doesn’t spread to other teeth.

Bumps on the gums

Tooth damage that requires a root canal can also cause small pimples to appear on your gums. These are also referred to as gum boils.

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What is the process of a root canal procedure?

On average, a root canal takes roughly 30 to 60 minutes to complete. If you have an infection that’s causing facial swelling or a fever, you may be given antibiotics prior to the procedure.

In a typical root canal procedure, your dentist will:

  1. Use local anesthesia to numb the tooth and gums.
  2. Place a small rubber dam over the affected area to isolate the tooth and keep it dry.
  3. Make a small opening in the tooth to access the decayed pulp.
  4. Remove the affected nerves, blood vessels, and tissues within the tooth.
  5. Clean and disinfect the tooth.
  6. Fill the empty canals.
  7. Seal the tooth to prevent reinfection.
  8. Place a custom dental crown over the treated tooth to protect it and restore your bite.

Is a root canal painful?

Many dental patients are fearful when they hear the term “root canal,” but these procedures have come a long way. The process of getting a root canal done is typically similar to getting a deep filling. You may experience some discomfort but it shouldn’t be painful, especially once you receive a local anesthetic.

What is root canal recovery like?

Most root canal patients don’t have significant pain afterwards. You may experience some sensitivity for a few days. Your dentist may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers to help manage any discomfort. Side effects should resolve within a couple of weeks. If you have intense or worsening discomfort after a root canal, contact your dentist immediately.

You should be able to eat normally once the numbness has worn off, though your dentist may recommend eating softer foods for a couple of days. Try to chew on the opposite side of your mouth from where the root canal took place.

How much does a root canal cost?

Depending on your dental insurance plan, you may have partial or full coverage for root canal procedures. In addition, some plans may provide additional benefits that can be applied toward things like root canals or fillings.

If you do not have dental insurance and are paying out of pocket, root canals may cost between $600 and $1,500. This number may be affected by the affected tooth (i.e. front tooth vs. molar), the extent of the procedure, whether your dentist is in- or out-of-network, and where you live.

How can I prevent a future root canal?

The best way to prevent a root canal is through standard dental health care practices. Always remember to brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day. You should also see your dentist for a routine dental exam at least once per year (ideally twice per year).

If you are already susceptible to tooth damage or have weakened teeth, your dentist may also advise you to take extra precautions. This may include the following:

  • Drink acidic, carbonated, and sugary beverages sparingly
  • Avoid hard, sticky, or sweet foods as best you can
  • Avoid chewing on ice
  • Wear a night-guard retainer while sleeping

If you have any questions or concerns about your dental health, be sure to bring them up to your dentist or dental specialist at your next appointment.


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This information is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult with your dentist for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company. Product availability may vary by location and plan type and is subject to change. All dental insurance policies contain exclusions and limitations. For costs and details of coverage, review your plan documents or contact a Cigna representative. All Cigna products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, including Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company and Cigna Dental Health, Inc. In Texas, the Dental plan is known as Cigna Dental Choice, and this plan uses the national Cigna DPPO Advantage network.

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