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So many of us know the feeling. You’re going about your business, biting into a triple-decker sandwich or perhaps blissfully savoring some soft-serve ice cream as it melts in your mouth, when suddenly you feel it.

A killer toothache.

For days you wrestle with the pain in your mouth, afraid to call the dentist for fear of the worst possible outcome: the need for a root canal.

With a reputation of being painful, the root canal procedure has a bad rap. Children and adults alike are afraid of them, some even refusing treatment for the extreme pain all together.

Although the recovery pain is a very real part of the procedure, many dentist-goers are quick to shudder at the mention of a root canal. Keep reading, and you’ll find some interesting facts about root canals that might shed some light on how exactly they work.

Commonly Called A “Root Canal,” the Proper Term for the Procedure is “Endodontic Therapy”

While you may know the procedure as simply a “root canal,” the medical or dental jargon is actually “endodontic therapy” or “endodontic treatment.” The term “endodontic,” a combination of the latin “endo” for inside and “odont” for tooth, is anything relating to the study or treatment of the inner pulp inside of a tooth. Dentists who specialize in this are called “Endodontists.”

The Root Canal is a Part of Your Tooth

The root canal is the space inside of an individual tooth that harbors its pulp. Pulp is made up of the tissues and nerve endings that make your tooth a living part of your mouth. When nerve endings or the pulp gets infected, this is where the pain comes in.

Dentists perform root canal treatment to to save the tooth and to prevent the worsening of infection. A root canal is essentially a reconstruction of the inside of your tooth to prevent the infection from spreading deeper into your jaw or onto other parts of your mouth.

Root Canals Have Been Around For a Long Time

According to The Chicago Tribune, archaeologists in the 1980s discovered evidence of what appears to have been a rudimentary root canal on a skull dating back to the second or third century BC. Since then, root canals have gone through various phases of development. Up until the 1600s, medical specialists performed root canals by draining infectious fluid from the tooth and gum.

Endodontic specialists now implement x-rays and anesthesia so as to make diagnoses more precise and treatment much less painful. The root canal is now a fine-tuned and professionally-endorsed procedure with centuries of practice and improvement.

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The Procedure Takes (on Average) 90 Minutes

Traditionally, root canals can be done entirely in one or two visits, as the procedure itself isn’t as complicated as you might think. Sessions usually take roughly an hour and a half. A general outline for the typical root canal is as follows:

  1.  Numbing and Anesthesia
    In a typical root canal, a dentist will numb the tooth and the gum around the tooth. They will then inject the anesthesia in the already numb area, prompting the patient to sleep during the procedure if they have so chosen. Patients have the option to stay awake as well.
  2.  Entering the Tooth
    To begin the procedure, the dentist will make a small hole in the top or back of the tooth to access the root canal and the infected pulp.
  3.  Removing and Sanitizing
    The dentist will then remove all dead or infected tissue and nerves from the tooth, and disinfect the area to ensure that the infection doesn’t recur or spread.
  4.  Filling the Tooth
    Next, the dentist will fill the tooth with an elastic substance and adhesive to fill each crevice of the root canal. The top of the tooth is also filled in or replaced completely. The nerves and tissue are gone, which means that the patient will no longer have feeling in that particular tooth anymore; however, the tooth itself will remain in the gums.

There Are Two Major Types of Endodontic (or Root Canal) Procedures

The standard root canal procedure, as mentioned above, consists of a removal of all substances in the tooth and a filling of the disinfected hollow spot. There are two different ways this procedure can be done, and the difference is in the point of entry.

  1.  Entry through the tooth
    Typically, dentists will enter the tooth by drilling a small hole in the crown or top of a molar, or the hidden surface of a more visible tooth.
  2.  Entry through the gum
    When the infection in the tooth is severe or not visible using only an x-ray, dentists must enter through the gum to get a different view of the infection. This is considered a surgical root canal as it is invasive to your gum.

root canal

Root Canals Have A High Success Rate

About 80%-97% of root canals are considered “successful,” meaning that no infections occur after the procedure. An unsuccessful root canal is usually the result of left behind tissue or nerve endings, complex inner tooth anatomy, or a dentist not filling in the root canal all the way.

As the stats demonstrate, however, failed root canals are rare and unlikely. Dentists certified to perform root canals are highly qualified, using advanced technology and sterile equipment to get the job done.

It’s important to know that no matter what, your dentist will typically recommend what is best for you and your 32. Although a root canal might seem scary, knowing what goes into it and knowing that your dentist has your best interest in mind will hopefully dissuade your apprehension surrounding root canals. Read our blog on 10 ways to improve your oral hygiene to learn how you can prevent ever having to have a root canal surgery.