Endodontic therapy (root canal treatment) is an everyday restorative procedure that helps preserve teeth and prevent unnecessary extractions. Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to have preconceived opinions on what the root canal experience will be like. The great news is that it’s almost like having a routine dental filling or crown, except the appointment tends to take a little more time. How long does a root canal take, you ask? Depending on the tooth—and how many roots it has to treat—the time can fluctuate a bit. Each canal needs to be cleaned out and sealed off, so more roots equal more time required.
How long does a dentist need for a root canal procedure? Depending on the technology they have access to, how many roots you have, and if there are any existing restorations, the average root canal appointment will probably be about 90 minutes long, give or take. In severe cases, a root canal treatment can take up to 3 hours. Some specialists (called endodontists) may have additional resources like microscopes and endodontic technology that allow them to complete the root canal in even less time than that. Issues like previous root canal treatment or curved/crooked roots may also come into play.
In the United States, most root canal treatments are completed in one appointment. This process involves numbing the tooth, accessing the nerve, removing the nerve tissues, medicating the canal, and sealing it off. At that point, your dentist will place a temporary filling or crown while a permanent one is made at the lab. About two weeks later, you’ll need to return for a second appointment to have your final crown bonded over the prepped tooth. Even though your root canal technically only takes one appointment, you’ll still probably make 2-3 trips to the dentist's office. One for an exam, then your actual treatment, and then a third one for the final crown placement. Occasionally, some dentists will break your root canal procedure up into two visits instead of one. Especially if there is a significant infection that needs to “go down” before the canal is sealed off.
Some dentists absolutely love performing root canals. Others prefer to only treat the easier teeth because they don’t take as long to complete. If you have a back tooth or one with blocked canals that need endodontic treatment, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for more efficient care. Endodontists perform root canals day-in and day-out, so they’re usually much quicker when it comes to treating teeth that might be more of a challenge for your general dentist.
Here’s the great news: there isn’t any “recovery” or “healing” period after you get a root canal. After the nerve tissues are removed, your natural tooth isn’t alive anymore. It’s physically incapable of picking up on any pain stimuli because there are no tissues inside of it. All of that being said, there are still tiny nerves around your tooth that can tell if pressure is applied.
Most of the recovery period after getting a root canal isn’t related to the actual endodontic procedure. Normally it’s just some lingering tenderness where the anesthetic was injected, or some soreness in your jaws if you had to open wide for a long time. Rinsing with some warm salt water and taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever like Motrin will usually be all that you need.
Even though your tooth is permanently treated after a root canal, you still need to brush and floss every day. While the inside of the tooth is restored, the outside of it is still susceptible to bacteria. You could still get cavities or gum disease if you aren’t careful. So be sure to thoroughly clean around your tooth every day.
As long as your dentist numbs the tooth with local anesthetic, you can experience a comfortable root canal procedure. However, if you have severe inflammation because of an extremely large cyst or abscess, the local anesthesia won’t work as effectively. Your dentist may need to place you on antibiotics ahead of time, to reduce the swelling and inflammation so that they can numb your infected tooth on the date of your appointment. Antibiotics won’t permanently treat your dental abscess; they’ll only provide short-term relief. But after your root canal, your tooth won’t be able to feel any painful sensations.
During a root canal, your dentist is physically removing all of the pulp and nerve tissues inside of the tooth and each of the roots. All the way up to the tip of every root. That’s why how long a root canal takes is dependent upon how many roots there are and the size/curve of each canal.
After all of the nerves are cleaned out, your dentist will also take steps to medicate the canals and seal them off. You can think of it as getting a dental filling that reaches the entire length of the tooth. This step is what helps seal off the canals, preventing re-infection.
Your root canal should be a once-and-done treatment for the remaining duration that you have your tooth. Just remember that gum disease or decay can affect your tooth, so it’s not immune to additional infections in the future. The better you care for your tooth and the ones around it, the longer it will last.
In extremely rare circumstances, sometimes a root canal can fail. When that happens, the tooth needs to be re-treated by a specialist. Your endodontist will go in and remove the old root canal, re-treat the tooth, and place a new root canal and crown. How long for a root canal procedure if it’s a re-treatment? Usually much longer than your initial endodontic procedure. It’s perfectly fine to stay awake or ask for nitrous oxide, but you might prefer oral or IV sedation since it’s a bit more complex appointment and you’ll be sitting there for a longer time.
How long does a root canal take? Normally about an hour and a half. The more roots your tooth has, the longer the endodontic procedure requires. Your general dentist might send you to a root canal specialist (endodontist) if you have curved, narrow roots or need a re-treatment. Fortunately getting a root canal is usually just as comfortable as having a tooth filled. The biggest difference is that it just takes up a bit more time. If your specialist has extra technology specifically for root canals, the procedure will be even quicker and gentler than you might expect.
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