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What is Root Canal? How is Root Canal Done?

Understanding root canal treatment can alleviate anxiety and help patients make informed decisions. This article explores what a root canal is and why it is necessary. It also provides a detailed breakdown of the treatment process over three visits.


Root canal treatment is a dental procedure designed to save a tooth that is severely infected or decayed. Often misunderstood and feared, it is a straightforward procedure that can relieve pain and restore dental health. This article aims to demystify root canal treatment, explaining what it entails and how it is performed in three distinct visits.

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected. The procedure involves removing the damaged area of the tooth (the pulp), cleaning and disinfecting it, and then filling and sealing it. The term “root canal” comes from cleaning the canals inside the tooth’s root.

Why is a Root Canal Necessary?

Root canal treatment becomes necessary when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected. This can occur due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. If left untreated, it can cause severe pain or lead to an abscess.

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Root Canal Procedure Explained

Root canal treatment is typically completed over three visits to ensure thorough root canal cleaning, disinfection, and sealing.

First Visit: Access Opening, Cleaning, and BMP

During the first visit, the primary goal is to access the infected pulp and begin cleaning. This visit involves several critical steps:

Access Opening The dentist administers local anesthesia to numb the affected area. An opening is then made in the crown of the tooth to reach the pulp chamber and root canals.

Finding and Cleaning the Canals Using specialized instruments, the dentist locates all the root canals within the tooth. Each canal is carefully cleaned to remove the infected pulp, bacteria, and debris. This step is crucial for preventing further infection.

Biomechanical Preparation (BMP) BMP involves shaping and cleaning the root canals to facilitate the filling process. This is done using a series of progressively larger files to ensure the canals are adequately prepared. An antimicrobial solution is also used to disinfect the canals thoroughly.

After this visit, a temporary filling is placed in the opening to protect the tooth between appointments.

Second Visit: Recleaning and Filing

The second visit focuses on ensuring the canals are free from debris and prepared for the final filling. The steps include:

Recleaning the Canals The dentist removes the temporary filling and re-examines the root canals. Any remaining debris or bacteria is meticulously cleaned out. This step ensures that no infection remains and that the canals are ready for the next phase.

Filing the Canals Once the canals are clean, they are further shaped and smoothed using specialized files. This process removes any lingering debris and prepares the canals for the final filling. Ensuring the canals are perfectly shaped is crucial for the longevity of the treatment.

After this visit, another temporary filling may be placed, or the tooth might be left open for further disinfection.

Third Visit: Filling the Canals with Gutta Percha

The final visit involves sealing the cleaned and shaped canals with a material that prevents reinfection. The steps are:

Filling the Canals: The dentist removes the temporary filling and ensures the canals are dry and free from debris. The canals are then filled with gutta percha, a rubber-like material that seals the space and prevents bacteria from re-entering. The gutta percha is usually placed in combination with a sealer paste to ensure a tight seal.

Restoration: Once the root canal filling is complete, the dentist places a permanent filling or a crown to restore the tooth’s structure and function. This final restoration protects the tooth from future damage and restores its normal function.

Benefits of Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment offers several significant benefits, including:

Pain Relief The primary benefit is the relief from the severe pain caused by an infected or inflamed pulp. The procedure removes the source of the pain, providing immediate relief.

Tooth Preservation Root canal treatment saves the natural tooth, which is always preferable to extraction. Keeping your natural teeth helps maintain proper chewing and biting functions and prevents other teeth from shifting.

Aesthetics After the final restoration, the treated tooth looks and functions like any other tooth. This helps maintain your smile and self-confidence.

Common Misconceptions About Root Canals

Root canals have a reputation for being painful and complicated, but these are misconceptions. Modern techniques and anesthesia make the procedure no more uncomfortable than a routine filling. Additionally, root canal treatment is a common procedure with a high success rate, ensuring your tooth’s health and function for years to come.

Is Root Canal Painful?

Many people fear root canal treatment, thinking it will be painful. However, with modern dental techniques and anesthetics, the procedure is generally no more uncomfortable than getting a filling. Most patients report that they feel little to no pain during the procedure.

Success Rate of Root Canal Treatment

Root canal treatment has a high success rate, often exceeding 90%. With proper care and restoration, a treated tooth can last a lifetime. Regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene practices can help ensure the longevity of the treated tooth.

Preventing the Need for Root Canals

While root canals are effective, preventing the need for them is even better. Here are some tips to help avoid root canal treatment:

Maintain Good Oral Hygiene Brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and using an antibacterial mouthwash can help prevent decay and infections that could lead to a root canal.

Regular Dental Check-ups Regular visits to the dentist for cleanings and check-ups can help catch problems early before they require more invasive treatment.

Protect Your Teeth Using a mouthguard during sports and avoiding chewing on hard objects can prevent damage to your teeth that might necessitate a root canal.

Healthy Diet A diet low in sugar and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains supports overall dental health and reduces the risk of decay.

What to Expect After Root Canal Treatment

Post-treatment care is crucial for the success of root canal therapy. Here’s what you can expect and how to care for your tooth after the procedure:

Immediate Aftercare You may experience some sensitivity or discomfort for a few days after the procedure. Over-the-counter pain relievers and avoiding chewing on the treated tooth can help manage this.

Follow-Up Care It’s essential to follow your dentist’s instructions and attend any recommended follow-up appointments. This ensures that the tooth heals properly and that the final restoration is secure.

Long-Term Care Continue with regular dental visits and maintain good oral hygiene to keep your restored tooth healthy. A well-cared-for tooth that has had root canal treatment can last a lifetime.


What causes the need for a root canal?

Deep decay, repeated dental procedures, or a crack or chip in the tooth can cause the pulp to become inflamed or infected, necessitating a root canal.

How long does a root canal take?

A root canal typically requires one to three visits, depending on the complexity of the case.

Is a crown always necessary after a root canal?

Not always, but a crown is often recommended to protect the tooth and restore its function, especially for back teeth which endure more pressure from chewing.

Can a root canal fail?

While root canals have a high success rate, they can fail if the canals are not thoroughly cleaned or sealed, or if a new infection occurs. Regular dental check-ups are essential to monitor the treated tooth.

How can I avoid needing a root canal in the future?

Maintain good oral hygiene, avoid hard foods that can crack teeth, and visit your dentist regularly to catch any issues early.

What are the alternatives to root canal treatment?

The main alternative is tooth extraction, followed by options like implants, bridges, or dentures to replace the missing tooth. However, preserving the natural tooth with a root canal is generally preferred.


Root canal treatment is a common and effective procedure to save a severely damaged or infected tooth. By understanding what is involved in the process, and what to expect during and after treatment, patients can approach the procedure with confidence. Maintaining good oral hygiene and regular dental visits can help prevent the need for a root canal, but when necessary, it provides a solution that can relieve pain and restore dental health.

Dr. Kiran MDS

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