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This procedure removes dental pulp when it has become dead or infected. Dental pulp is the soft core of the tooth. It contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. The pulp extends from the top of the tooth, called the crown, all the way down to the roots, in branches called canals.
Dental pulp may become infected because of:
When dental pulp becomes infected or dies, a painful abscess within the jawbone will occur. Removing dead or diseased dental pulp will prevent infection from spreading to other areas of the mouth and destroying bone around the tooth. If a root canal is not done, the tooth will need to be removed.
Common signs of pulp problems include:
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a root canal, your dentist will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your dentist before the procedure.
Your dentist will:
Local anesthesia will be used. The dentist will numb the area in your mouth. The anesthesia will be given as an injection.
A small hole will be made through the top of the tooth and into the pulp. Next, steel files will be inserted to extract the pulp tissue. All teeth have 1-4 individual canals. Pulp will need to be extracted from all canals in the affected tooth. Once all pulp has been removed, the walls of the root canal will be reshaped and enlarged. Medication will be inserted to kill bacteria.
At this point, a temporary filling may be inserted. This filling will protect the tooth. The procedure may be done within 1 visit or at multiple appointments. This depends on the condition of the tooth. Lastly, the canal will be dried, sterilized, and filled with a rubbery material. This material will prevent recontamination.
The dentist will:
A root canal may take 1-3 appointments. Each appointment may last 1-2 hours.
You will have discomfort for a few days. Your doctor may give you pain medication.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
Canadian Dental Association
Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at:
http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/r/root-canals. Accessed February 19, 2016.
What is a root canal?
Academy of General Dentistry website. Available at:
Updated January 2012. Accessed February 19, 2016.
6/2/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.dynamed.com: Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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