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Root canal treatment: What is a root canal and why is it done?

By Wyatt Dilling on April 25, 2022 in Dental Health


Root canals are a dental procedure that treats infection in teeth. Without root canals, serious infe

Many experience feelings of fear when visiting the dentist, so it's understandable that learning you need a root canal can give you even more anxiety. However, root canals are more common than you think. In fact, more than 15 million root canals are performed annually in the United States. A root canal treatment may be both necessary and beneficial to you! 

What Is a Root Canal?

So, first things first, what is a root canal? A dentist or endodontist will create a treatment plan with a root canal when they spot an infection inside a tooth's pulp that may be causing you pain. Usually, a large dental cavity is the cause of the infection in the tooth’s pulp. The root canal procedure itself is fairly standard. According to the American Association of Endodontists, a root canal procedure involves removing the infected pulp, cleaning and disinfecting the inside of the tooth, and finally, refilling and sealing. Eliminating bacteria from an infected root canal relieves pain and saves the natural tooth.  

If you're wondering whether you need to schedule a visit to your dentist, keep an eye out for these signs you may need a root canal

  • A general feeling of intense pain while chewing or biting
  • Ongoing sensitivity to both hot and cold objects
  • Swelling or overall tender feelings on the gums
  • Pimples on and around the gums

What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?

Knowing what to expect during a root canal can help ease nerves. Let's review the steps of a root canal treatment:

  • Preparing for treatment: To prepare for your procedure, your dentist will start by taking x-rays of your mouth to check the damage. Like other major dental procedures, you can expect to receive medication to numb the pain during the root canal procedure. 
  • Clearing the pulp: Once the area is cleaned and prepped, it's time to remove the decay. After creating an opening through the top of the tooth, your dentist will use small dental instruments to remove the infected pulp. After the infection is removed, the canals are flushed and cleaned to prepare for the next step. 
  • Filling the canals: The root canal is filled with a rubberlike substance called gutta-percha. This acts as a permanent bandage and prevents bacteria from entering the tooth through the roots. A temporary filling is placed in the crown to prevent any debris or saliva from entering the tooth.
  • Placing the crown: Finally, to help protect the tooth from any future damage, a crown may be placed over the tooth. Crowns are normally needed for back teeth, but not always for front teeth. 

Why Is a Root Canal Done? 

Deferring a root canal procedure can cause immense pain but it could ultimately hurt your long-term oral health. If left untreated, you run the risk of losing your tooth.

These consequences are why it's essential to see your dentist bi-annually to prevent and treat oral infections. 

To find out if your Delta Dental plan covers root canal procedures, visit our Member Connection.