What To Know About Root Canals Before Getting One

A patient laying in an examination chair as a dentist prepares a drill and needle for a root canal procedure.

A tooth with inflamed or infected pulp demands treatment. The infection can worsen if left untreated, causing pain, an abscess, and potentially, the loss of the tooth. Dentists will remove the impaired pulp, clean the tooth, and seal it. Don’t feel frightened if you’re in desperate need of a root canal. Here’s what you need to know about root canals before getting one.

During the Procedure

The Process

During the procedure, the dentist will place a dental dam around the tooth to keep it dry and free from saliva. Next, they drill an access hole into the tooth, through which they remove the infected pulp. The dentist uses special files to clean and shape the inner canals of the tooth thoroughly.

Once the canals are clean, the dentist fills the space with a biocompatible material called gutta-percha. They place this material in the tooth to prevent future infections. Finally, they seal the access hole using a temporary or permanent filling.

Single or Several Procedures

Dentists can complete most root canals in a single visit. However, they may need to split the procedure into several parts in other cases. Factors such as the infection’s severity, the complexity of the tooth anatomy, and the patient’s overall oral health can influence the number of visits required.

Dentists may prefer to perform the root canal in one appointment in straightforward cases with limited infection and an uncomplicated tooth structure. This single-procedure approach minimizes how often the patient must return to the dental office, reducing the overall appointment time and inconvenience.

However, the dentist might decide to split the treatment into multiple visits if the infection is severe or if the tooth has an unusual structure with multiple canals. Dentists use an initial appointment to clean out the infection and apply medication to the inside of the tooth to help remove any remaining bacteria in these cases.

During follow-up appointments, the dentist will continue to clean and shape the canals, ensuring they remove all the infected tissue before sealing the tooth permanently. This careful approach ensures thorough treatment, prevents complications, and ensures your satisfaction with the results.

Local Anesthesia

During a root canal procedure, patients are typically awake, but dentists administer local anesthesia to numb the affected area and ensure the patient does not experience pain or discomfort during the treatment. The local anesthesia numbs the tooth and surrounding tissues, allowing the dentist to work on the tooth without the patient feeling significant pain.

While patients are awake and conscious during the root canal, the numbing effect of the anesthesia helps to keep them comfortable throughout the procedure. Dentists may offer sedation options to help relax the patient in cases where they may feel anxious or apprehensive about the treatment.


The duration of a root canal procedure can vary depending on factors such as the case’s complexity, the infected tooth’s location, and the individual patient’s dental anatomy. On average, a straightforward root canal treatment for a single tooth can take approximately one to two hours to complete.

Post-Procedure Best Practices

An older woman relaxing at home, sipping a glass of water. The sun shines through white blinds on a large window behind her.

Post-care is effortless when you know how to care for yourself before the root canal procedure. Here are some of the best practices to remember.

Brush and Floss Gently

Gentle brushing removes food particles and plaque without exerting excessive pressure on the recovering tooth. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and brushing in a slow, circular motion can prevent irritation and promote healing. Incorporating a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth can provide additional comfort.

Flossing is equally important, but it requires a delicate touch to avoid damage or discomfort to the treated tooth and surrounding gums. Flossing softly between the teeth helps maintain gum health and prevents food particles from getting trapped. Instead of forcing the floss down, ease it carefully around each tooth, making sure not to snap it into the gums.

Dietary Considerations

Being mindful of your diet will facilitate a speedy recovery. Immediately following the procedure, and for at least a few days afterward, patients should avoid consuming hard, crunchy, and chewy foods. These types of foods can put undue pressure on the treated tooth and the temporary filling, increasing the risk of damage or discomfort.

Additionally, steering clear of sticky substances such as caramel, chewing gum, and certain candies is advisable as these can dislodge the temporary filling or crown. It’s best to opt for soft, easy-to-chew foods like mashed potatoes, yogurt, scrambled eggs, and smoothies.

Tooth sensitivity is also very common after a root canal procedure. Most times, it occurs from consuming extremely cold or hot foods and beverages. This discomfort will fade. Nevertheless, be sure to avoid these items to mitigate sensitivity.

Stick to Drinking Water

Water is the best beverage to maintain hydration without introducing sugars, acids, and other substances that may hinder healing. Soda, juice, and caffeinated drinks can cause many problems. Excessive sugar poses a higher risk of bacterial growth and infections, while caffeine provokes dehydration.

Drinking water is the best solution to avoid impeding the healing process. Staying hydrated also reduces the chance of complications and discomfort for a successful procedure.

Pain Management

Mild to moderate discomfort is not uncommon post-procedure—and it’s typically manageable with pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Some dentists will prescribe stronger medication if necessary. Applying a cold compress to the outside of your mouth can reduce swelling and help numb the area.

Schedule Follow-Up Appointments

A male dentist sitting in a small chair beside a female patient in the examination chair, talking about the procedure.

What you need to know about root canals before getting one is that follow-up appointments are crucial. Dentists will monitor the healing process, check for signs of infection or complications, and ensure they restore the treated tooth properly.

Follow-up visits also provide an opportunity to address any concerns or discomfort you may experience post-procedure. During these visits, your dentist may take additional X-rays to inspect the root canal treatment and confirm that the healing is progressing as expected.

Look no further than Woodstock Smiles if you’re searching for a dentist in Portland, OR, for routine check-ups or a root canal procedure. Learn more about our services by giving us a phone call or scheduling an appointment online. Our dentists cannot wait to refresh your smile.