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There are many dental procedures that get a bad rap, but it’s hard to think of any treatment more dreaded than the root canal. It’s even become shorthand for any experience that is unpleasant— “it’s like getting a root canal” or “I’d rather have a root canal” are two expressions you’ve probably heard many times. 

Endodontists specialize in root canals, so we’ve heard it all before. We also get lots of questions about what root canals entail and if they’re really as bad as everyone says. Here’s the scoop.

Is a root canal painful?

With modern endodontic techniques, advanced technology, and local anesthesia, root canals are not painful. The experience is not much different from getting a dental filling—it’s just a little bit longer. You may feel some discomfort because it’s never exactly a pleasant experience having someone working in your mouth for an extended amount of time, but pain? Probably not.

After your root canal procedure, you are likely to have some soreness surrounding the affected tooth. This is usually minimal and can be alleviated with cold compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers.

What happens during a root canal?

First, we open up the affected tooth so we can access the pulp. The pulp is removed, the chamber is cleaned, and antibiotics are applied, if needed, to ensure that reinfection does not occur. To replace the pulp, we fill the chamber with a rubber-like material and then a temporary restoration is put in place until your permanent restoration is ready to be bonded to your tooth.

How long does a root canal take?

Assuming there are no abnormalities in your root structure, you can expect your root canal to take about 90 minutes.

Do I need a crown after a root canal?

Most patients need a crown after a root canal. A crown covers the remaining healthy tooth structure left behind after a root canal, protecting it from damage and reinfection. Sometimes, though, an inlay, onlay, or even a dental filling can be used to restore the tooth structure after a root canal.

Should I have a root canal or an extraction?

Unfortunately, many patients are so scared by the idea of a root canal that they ask to have their tooth extraction instead, thinking that simply removing the tooth altogether is a preferable solution. This isn’t the case—preserving your natural tooth is always going to be the best case scenario.

Once your tooth is extracted, you have two options: you can replace it or you can leave it be. Replacement with a dental implant or bridge is time consuming and costly, and implants in particular are not always covered by dental insurance. If you choose not to replace your tooth, the supporting bone structure that once held the tooth in place will begin to break down. This weakens your bite and it can even cause a prematurely aged appearance. Your remaining teeth can begin to shift, become loose, and even fall out. All of these potential complications can be avoided with a simple root canal procedure.

Learn More about Root Canals

If you have questions about root canals, we have answers. Contact us today at one of our five locations to schedule an appointment.

A root canal is a common but complex dental procedure. The goal is to clean out the tooth roots and seal the space with a biocompatible material. Once the root canal is completed, a general dentist places a permanent restoration which may include a post and restorative material to build up the remaining tooth structure. This sets a sturdy foundation for the final crown which restores the tooth to function. Taking these steps allows us to save teeth that would otherwise need to be extracted.

Regular checkups and dental X-rays are a critical part of oral health.  Although everything may feel just fine, not all teeth that need root canals cause symptoms. In most cases, however, you will notice signs that are difficult to ignore.  In general, if you have dental pain that interferes with sleep, work, or a good time, it is time to see your dentist.  Below are three of the most common signs you need a root canal:

Tooth Pain

Although tooth pain does not always mean you need a root canal, it does signal that something is wrong. A thorough exam by an Endodontist, an expert in tooth pain, is the best way to determine what may be the cause. Dental pain may range anywhere from mild to excruciating. It can also be constant or come and go.  You might feel pain only when chewing, or it might last continuously for hours or days. As time goes on, it is common for the pain to change in intensity or quality.  Oftentimes root canal pain begins with mild discomfort, progressing to extreme pain/sensitivity, and if left long enough an abscess or infection may develop.


Like pain, dental swelling runs the gamut from mild to severe. You might notice a tender, slightly raised spot on the gum near the tooth, or you may be swollen into your neck or face. This area may or may not drain fluid and is likely to feel sore or tender. Long standing dental issues may cause swelling that comes and goes over weeks, months, or years. Regardless, swelling is a clear sign of a problem that requires immediate attention. See your dentist right away.

Temperature Sensitivity

Dentin hypersensitivity, or sensitive teeth, can be caused by many factors. However, a new sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures can sometimes be the only outward sign that a tooth needs a root canal. You might feel only mild discomfort, or hot or cold items like ice water or hot pizza may literally take your breath away. Your dentist will determine the source of your pain and whether you need a root canal.

Modern Root Canal Treatment

Root canals historically have a less than rosey reputation as painful and uncomfortable procedures. Modern root canal treatment, on the other hand, has changed this perception dramatically. Patients are much more likely to describe their procedures as “a long filling” than the painful episodes of yesteryear. At North Shore & Brookline Endodontics your comfort is our number one priority and we work hard to ensure a pleasant experience from the moment you enter our office.

We are committed to reducing your anxiety. If you have fears or concerns, please discuss them with us. We have quite a few techniques to help you feel more relaxed. 

North Shore & Brookline Endodontics is a specialty dental practice limited to endodontic therapy, with six clinics in the greater Boston area. Our mission is to use our knowledge and experience in root canal therapy to save teeth that would otherwise be lost. If you are searching for a skilled, compassionate endodontist in greater Boston, call the closest office today to learn how we can help.