Root Canal Treatment

What is a root canal treatment?

The part of the tooth that you see is the hard enamel on the outside. Under your gums, each tooth has roots that attach it to the bone in your jaw. Inside each tooth are blood vessels and nerves. Root canal treatment is a procedure done to clean out dead or dying tissue and infection from the inside of a tooth.

Root canal treatment can stop the infection and save the tooth so that it does not need to be pulled.

When is it used?

Root canal treatment is done when you have an abscess at the root of a tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled sac that causes pain and swelling. Pus is a thick fluid that usually contains white blood cells, dead tissue, and germs. The nerve inside your tooth may be exposed as a result of a mouth injury, crack in the tooth, or deep cavity.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell your dentist about all medicines and supplements that you take. Some products may increase your risk of side effects. Ask your dentist if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure. Also, avoid any rinses that contain alcohol. This can cause more irritation to the tissues in and around the affected tooth.
  • Tell your dentist if you have any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your dentist is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.
  • Follow any other instructions your dentist gives you.

What happens during the procedure?

The dentist will inject an anesthetic to numb the tooth. The dentist then drills a small opening in the top of the tooth and uses small tools to clean out dead tissue and bacteria from inside the tooth. Your dentist may place medicine inside the tooth to help kill any remaining bacteria. The dentist will seal the cleaned tooth with a soft, temporary filling.

What happens after the procedure?

At another appointment, your dentist will place a permanent filling on the chewing surface of the tooth. You may also need a crown to protect the tooth from breaking because a tooth treated with root canal therapy may break or crack more easily.

You will have a follow-up X-ray of the tooth after several months to make sure the bone is healing and the infection has cleared up. If the infection is not healed, your dentist may refer you to a specialist for surgery.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed. If an antibiotic has been prescribed, take all of it according to your dentist’s instructions. In addition, you can:

  • Rinse your mouth 3 to 4 times a day with warm saltwater.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Chew on the other side of your mouth.
  • Keep your mouth as free from bacteria as possible by brushing at least twice a day and flossing daily.

Ask your dentist:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-21
Last reviewed: 2015-01-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

Our Patient Portal provides safe and secure online access to better communicate with your Tufts Medical Center Community Care doctor. This easy-to-use web tool is a convenient way to book appointments, request referrals, renew prescriptions, view medical records/test results and communicate with your healthcare provider from the privacy of your own computer.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X