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Why a root canal?

Diagram of root canal problems

Do I need a root canal?

Endodontic treatment is necessary when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, an injury to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess.

What are the signs that my tooth needs endodontic treatment?

There are a few symptoms that mean you might need a root canal—

  • Severe pain while chewing or biting
  • Pimples on the gums
  • A chipped or cracked tooth
  • Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold, even after the sensation has been removed
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Deep decay or darkening of the gums

How does a root canal work?

The endodontist removes the inflamed or infected pulp, carefully cleans and shapes the inside of the root canal, then fills and seals the space. Afterward, you will return to your dentist, who will place a crown or other restoration on the tooth to protect and restore it to full function. For a more detailed, step-by-step explanation, click here. After restoration, the tooth continues to function like any other tooth.

Will it hurt?

Many endodontic procedures are performed to relieve the pain of toothaches caused by pulp inflammation or infection. With modern techniques and anesthetics, most patients report that they are comfortable during the procedure.


For the first few days after treatment, your tooth may feel sensitive, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This discomfort can be relieved with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Follow your endodontist’s instructions carefully.


Your tooth may continue to feel slightly different from your other teeth for some time after your endodontic treatment is completed. However, if you have sever pains or pressure, or pain that lasts more than a few days, call your endodontist. There are many sources of tooth pain that might not need  or result from root canal therapy --you can read about them here.

Can all teeth be treated endodontically?

Most teeth can be treated. Occasionally, a tooth can’t be saved because the root canals are not accessible, the root is severely fractured, the tooth doesn’t have adequate bone support, or the tooth cannot be restored. However, advances in endodontics are making it possible to save teeth that even a few years ago would have been lost. When endodontic treatment is not effective, endodontic surgery may be able to save the tooth.

What if I don't get a root canal when I need one?

If left untreated, the infection in the tooth can spread to other parts of the body, and in some cases can even be life threatening. If you are in need of a root canal, the infected pulp in the tooth needs to be removed.