What is a Root Canal? And Do I Need One?

Root canal treatment is often shrouded in misconceptions. This comprehensive blog delves into what a root canal is, its necessity, and the entire procedure. From understanding the signs that may indicate the need for this treatment, to examining its benefits and risks, we aim to clarify all aspects. We will also explore the consequences of neglecting dental infections, the realities of root canal pain, potential complications, and alternatives. Additionally, we will cover the costs, duration, aftercare, and common myths associated with root canal treatments, ensuring you have a clear and professional insight into this crucial dental procedure.

In this blog:

What is a Root Canal Treatment?

A root canal treatment, medically known as endodontic therapy, is a dental procedure aimed at treating issues within the tooth’s soft core, the dental pulp. The pulp, comprising nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue, can become infected or inflamed due to various reasons like deep decay, repeated dental procedures, cracks, or chips in the tooth. A root canal involves removing the damaged or infected pulp, cleaning and disinfecting the inner aspects of the tooth, and then filling and sealing it to prevent further infection.

This procedure plays a crucial role in alleviating pain and preserving a tooth that might otherwise need to be extracted. By treating and saving the natural tooth, a root canal can maintain one’s natural bite and smile, and avoid the need for more extensive dental work later on.

How Do You Know If You Need a Root Canal?

Determining the need for a root canal treatment typically involves recognising specific symptoms and undergoing a dental examination. Key indicators include:

Severe Toothache

Pain when chewing or applying pressure.

Sensitivity to Hot and Cold

Prolonged sensitivity or pain in response to hot or cold temperatures, even after the source is removed.

Discolouration of the Tooth

A darkened appearance of the tooth, indicating possible nerve damage or decay.

Swollen and Tender Gums

Swelling and tenderness in the gums near the affected tooth.

Pimple on the Gums

A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums, often a sign of an abscess.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult with a dental professional. They will likely perform an examination, which may include X-rays, to diagnose the cause of the symptoms and determine if a root canal or another treatment is necessary. Addressing these symptoms early can prevent further complications and help preserve the natural tooth.

Benefits and Risks of a Root Canal Treatment

When considering a root canal treatment, it’s important to weigh its benefits and risks. This treatment, while highly effective in alleviating pain and preserving natural teeth, comes with its own set of considerations. In this section, we’ll delve into the advantages of opting for a root canal, such as pain relief and preventing the spread of infection, and also discuss potential risks, including post-procedure discomfort and the chance of re-infection. Understanding these aspects is crucial for making an informed decision about your dental health.

Benefits of a Root Canal

Pain Relief: Effectively alleviates pain caused by the damaged pulp.

Tooth Preservation: Allows for the saving of the natural tooth, maintaining normal chewing function and bite.

Prevents Spread of Infection: Removing the infected pulp prevents the spread of infection to surrounding teeth and tissues.

Aesthetic Solution: Often followed by a crown, it improves the appearance of the tooth.

Risks of a Root Canal

Post-Procedure Discomfort: Some discomfort or mild pain is common after the treatment.

Tooth Fragility: The treated tooth can become brittle and might require a crown for protection.

Re-Infection: If the tooth isn’t properly sealed, or in cases of complex root structures, re-infection can occur.

Procedure Complexity: The complexity of the root canal structure may pose challenges in cleaning and filling the tooth.

Understanding these benefits and risks is vital for making an informed decision about undergoing a root canal treatment. It’s always recommended to discuss these with your dental professional to understand how they apply to your specific situation.

The Dangers of an Untreated Dental Infection

Ignoring a dental infection that requires a root canal can lead to serious complications. Here’s why prompt treatment is crucial:

Spread of Infection

Left untreated, the infection in the tooth pulp can spread to surrounding tissues, leading to swelling and severe pain. It can even reach the jawbone and beyond, potentially causing systemic issues.

Abscess Formation

An untreated infection can result in an abscess, a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of the tooth roots. This can cause intense pain and swelling, and in severe cases, may lead to life-threatening complications.

Bone Loss Around the Tooth Root

Chronic infection can lead to the deterioration of the bone supporting the tooth, compromising its stability and health.

Increased Pain

Without treatment, the pain typically worsens over time, becoming more constant and severe.

Overall Health Risks

Dental infections can potentially impact overall health. For instance, there is evidence linking untreated dental infections to heart disease, diabetes complications, and respiratory issues.

Understanding these risks underscores the importance of not delaying a root canal treatment when your dental professional recommends it. Taking prompt action can prevent these severe complications and preserve your oral and overall health.

What Happens During a Root Canal Treatment?

A root canal treatment involves several key steps to remove infection and protect the tooth.

  1. Local Anesthesia

The area around the affected tooth is numbed to ensure comfort during the procedure.

  1. Tooth Isolation

The tooth is isolated with a rubber dam to keep it clean and dry.

  1. Access Opening

A small opening is made in the crown of the tooth to access the pulp chamber.

  1. Removing the Infected Pulp

Special tools are used to remove the infected or inflamed pulp from the tooth.

  1. Cleaning and Shaping

The root canal is thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, and shaped to prepare it for filling.

  1. Filling the Canal

The cleaned canal is filled with a biocompatible material, usually a rubber-like substance called gutta-percha.

  1. Sealing the Tooth

The opening in the tooth is sealed with a temporary or permanent filling to prevent re-infection.

The procedure is often followed by the placement of a crown or other restoration to protect and restore the tooth to full function. The root canal treatment is a precise and detailed process designed to alleviate pain and preserve the natural tooth.

Is a Root Canal Painful?

One of the most common misconceptions about root canal treatment is that it is extremely painful. However, with modern dental techniques and anesthesia, root canals are generally no more uncomfortable than getting a filling. Here’s what to expect in terms of pain and discomfort:

During the Procedure

The area around the tooth is numbed using local anesthesia, making the procedure relatively pain-free. While you might feel some pressure or movement, actual pain is typically not experienced.

After the Procedure

Once the anesthesia wears off, it’s normal to experience some tenderness or mild discomfort in the area for a few days. This is usually manageable with over-the-counter pain medications.

It’s important to remember that the goal of a root canal is to relieve pain caused by a damaged or infected tooth. Avoiding treatment due to fear of pain can lead to more severe pain and complications. If you have concerns about pain, discuss them with your dentist, who can provide additional information on pain management options.

Complications of a Root Canal Treatment

While root canal treatments are generally safe and effective, like any medical procedure, they can have complications. Awareness of these potential issues is important:


The most common complication is re-infection of the tooth, which can occur if the seal on the treated tooth is not perfect, or if there are undetected additional root canals or complex root canal anatomy.

Fracture of the Tooth

Teeth that have undergone root canal treatment can become more brittle and susceptible to fractures, particularly if a crown is not placed afterwards to protect the tooth.

Procedural Complications

During the treatment, there’s a small risk of instruments breaking within the canal or the root canal being improperly shaped or filled.

Post-Treatment Pain

Some patients may experience pain or discomfort after the treatment, usually manageable with over-the-counter or prescribed pain medication.

It’s important to follow your dentist’s advice on post-treatment care and attend follow-up appointments to monitor the success of the treatment and mitigate any potential complications. Promptly addressing any concerns or symptoms post-treatment with your dentist can also help prevent or manage these complications effectively.

How Much Does a Root Canal Cost?

The cost of a root canal varies depending on several factors, including the complexity of the case and the specific tooth affected. Generally:

Location of the Tooth

Root canals on molars tend to be more expensive due to their accessibility and the complexity of the procedure.

Severity of the Infection

More severe infections may require additional treatments or visits, impacting the cost.

Dental Professional Fees

Costs can vary based on the experience and location of the dentist or endodontist.

Additional Treatments

Additional procedures like a dental crown, which is often necessary after a root canal, add to the total cost.

Insurance coverage can also play a significant role in the overall expense. It’s best to get a detailed estimate from your dental provider and check with your insurance for coverage details. Understanding these cost factors helps in making an informed decision about your dental care. For a precise quote tailored to your individual needs, it’s best to contact Dental Aspects directly at (07) 3800 8899.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

The duration of a root canal procedure can vary, but generally, it can be broken down as follows:

Initial Visit

Typically involves examination, X-rays, and planning the treatment, which may take about an hour.

Treatment Sessions

The root canal process itself usually requires one to two visits. Each session can last from 90 minutes to a few hours, depending on the complexity of the case and the tooth’s condition.

Multiple Visits

In some complex cases, additional appointments might be needed to ensure thorough cleaning and shaping of the root canal.

It’s important to note that every case is unique. Your dentist can give you a more accurate estimate based on your specific situation. The goal is to perform the treatment as effectively as possible, even if it requires more time.

Suggested Reading: The Importance Of Dental X-Rays

What Do I Need to Do After a Root Canal Treatment Visit?

Post-root canal care is crucial for recovery and the long-term success of the treatment:

Avoid Eating on the Treated Side

Until the numbness wears off, avoid chewing on the side of the treated tooth to prevent biting your cheek or tongue.

Maintain Oral Hygiene

Continue with regular brushing and flossing, but be gentle around the treated area.

Follow Pain Management Advice

If prescribed or suggested by your dentist, take over-the-counter pain relievers to manage discomfort.

Avoid Hard Foods

For a few days post-treatment, eat softer foods to avoid putting pressure on the treated tooth.

Attend Follow-up Appointments

Return to your dentist for any recommended follow-up visits to ensure proper healing and placement of the final restoration, if needed.

Adhering to these guidelines can help ensure a smooth recovery and the longevity of the root canal treatment.

Alternatives to a Root Canal Treatment

When considering alternatives to a root canal, the main options include:

Tooth Extraction

Removing the affected tooth is a common alternative. It eliminates the infection and associated pain but also results in losing the natural tooth. After extraction, options like dental implants, bridges, or dentures can help restore function and aesthetics.

Pulp Capping

In some cases, particularly where the pulp is not yet infected, a procedure called pulp capping can be performed. This involves placing a protective dressing over the pulp to encourage healing and avoid a root canal.

Observation and Pain Management

In certain situations, if the tooth is not causing severe pain or the infection is not advanced, observation with pain management might be considered. However, this is typically a temporary solution.

Each of these alternatives has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Tooth extraction, for instance, might seem like a simpler solution, but it can lead to other issues like misalignment of surrounding teeth and jawbone deterioration. Discussing these options thoroughly with your dentist is crucial to understanding which is the most suitable for your specific dental situation.

Root Canal Treatment at Dental Aspects

At Dental Aspects, root canal treatment is more than just a procedure; it’s a commitment to your oral health and comfort. Our experienced dentists, equipped with the latest dental technologies, ensure that your root canal procedure is as pain-free and efficient as possible. Understanding the anxiety often associated with this treatment, we provide a caring and supportive environment, focusing on patient education and comfort. Our approach combines advanced techniques with personalised care to preserve your natural teeth and maintain oral health. For a more comprehensive understanding of how Dental Aspects handles root canal treatments and to learn about the patient-centric care we offer at our Browns Plains dentist clinic, you can visit our Root Canal Treatment page.

Root Canal Treatment FAQs

Do Root Canals Cause Cancer?

There is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that root canal treatments cause cancer. This myth is based on outdated and debunked theories.

What Happens If You Don’t Get a Root Canal?

Avoiding a necessary root canal can lead to increased pain, spread of infection, and possible tooth loss.

Can a Root Canal Fail?

While root canals have a high success rate, they can fail due to factors like complex anatomy, undetected canal branches, or re-infection.

Does a Root Canal Kill the Tooth?

A root canal removes the infected pulp, but the treated tooth remains alive, supported by the surrounding tissues.

Is It Better to Have a Root Canal or Extraction?

Preserving the natural tooth via root canal is often preferable to extraction, which can lead to more complex dental issues.

Can You Be Put to Sleep for a Root Canal?

While root canals are usually performed under local anesthesia, sedation options are available for patients with anxiety or special needs.

Keep Reading: Navigating Tooth Sensitivity: Causes, Solutions, And Prevention


Dr. Asmita Premsegar

Dr. Asmita is the Principal Dentist at Dental Aspects, having studied Dentistry at Griffith University after completing the Bachelor of Oral Health Therapy degree in 2008. Passionate and experienced in all aspects of dentistry, Dr. Asmita is committed to making a positive contribution to the community and the oral health sector, and loves seeing her happy patients' smiles after each visit to our clinic.

About the Author

Principal Dentist

Dr. Asmita is the Principal Dentist at Dental Aspects, having studied Dentistry at Griffith University after completing the Bachelor of Oral Health Therapy degree in 2008. Passionate and experienced in all aspects of dentistry, Dr. Asmita is committed to making a positive contribution to the community and the oral health sector, and loves seeing her happy patients’ smiles after each visit to our clinic.

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