Your dentist will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history and any previous treatment you have had on your teeth.
Your dentist will also take an X-ray of your tooth. This can help to show how far any infection has spread, if there is an abscess and how many root canals your tooth has.
Root canal treatment is usually done under local anaesthesia, which means that it won’t hurt. This completely blocks pain from your jaw area and you will stay awake during the procedure. If you’re concerned about having a local anaesthetic, talk to your dentist.
Your dentist will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen. You can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead. You may be asked to sign a consent form before your treatment begins.
Sometimes damaged teeth can’t be repaired with root canal treatment. This is usually if your tooth is badly damaged or if you have severe gum disease which prevents your tooth from healing or being well supported after treatment. In this case your dentist may suggest you have the tooth removed (extracted).
If you need a local anaesthetic, your dentist will give it to you a few minutes before the procedure, to give it time to work. He will separate your tooth from the rest of your mouth using a thin sheet of rubber, called a dam. This helps to stop the spread of any infection. It also prevents you from swallowing or breathing in any small instruments or fluids used during the procedure.
Your dentist will make a hole in the top of your tooth and remove the dead or diseased pulp. He or she will then clean out the empty hole using a fluid that also helps to get rid of any infection. The hole in your tooth may need to be widened to make sure it can be filled properly. Your dentist will do this using small files. This can take several hours and may have to be done over more than one visit. If your root canal is severely damaged, this may be all the treatment you have during your first visit.
Your dentist will put a temporary filling in your tooth to keep it sealed until you go back for the next stage of your treatment. However, if your tooth isn’t severely damaged your dentist may put a permanent filling in and seal the tooth. He or she may take an X-ray to check it before your tooth is filled.
If your root canal treatment involves more than one appointment, your temporary filling will be removed by your dentist on your next visit, before he or she carries out further root canal treatment. When your root canal work is finished, your dentist will seal your tooth to prevent infection and further damage. If there’s a risk your tooth may become damaged again your dentist may suggest having a crown fitted. This is an artificial cap that fits over your tooth.
You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready. After a local anaesthetic, it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your mouth.
You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off. If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
Your root canal treatment should be checked by your dentist after a year. You will have an X-ray and your dentist will check for any pain, swelling or signs of infection or damage. You may need to have further checks over the next four years if there‘s any sign of damage, or if your tooth doesn’t heal properly. Some people need to have further root canal treatment.
After your treatment, it's important to take care of your repaired tooth. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss between your teeth every day and have sugary foods or drinks only at mealtimes. You can also take care of your teeth by visiting your dentist regularly for a check-up. Your dentist will advise you about how often you should have a dental check-up. On average, this may be every six to 12 months, but it depends on your individual circumstances and your dental health.
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with root canal treatment. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your dentist to explain how these risks apply to you.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure.
Cleaning your teeth may cause slight tenderness, but this is only temporary. If you have severe pain or any pain or discomfort that gets worse, see your dentist.
Complications are when problems occur during or after the treatment.
Nine out of 10 times, root canal treatment is successful, but sometimes further problems can occur. For example, your tooth might not heal properly, become damaged or infected. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat your dental infection. In some instances, you may be advised to have root canal treatment again. This is called re-treatment.
It’s also possible for symptoms to return years after you’ve had root canal treatment and re-treatment may be suggested.
I am having root canal treatment. How long will the restored tooth last?
After root canal treatment the restored tooth should last as long as your other teeth. It’s important to look after your teeth and gums and to see your dentist regularly.
Your treated tooth will stay healthy as long as the root is nourished by the tissues around it. This means your tooth could last a lifetime.
After your treatment, it's important to take care of your repaired tooth as you would any other. For good mouth and dental hygiene, follow the points below.
- Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes, using fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss between your teeth at least once a day.
- Have small amounts of sugary foods and drinks, ideally at mealtimes only.
- Have regular check-ups at your dentist.
Will I have to pay for root canal treatment?
The cost of having root canal treatment varies. Ask your dentist to provide you with a written estimate of the costs involved before you start your root canal treatment.
If you see an NHS dentist, you may be able to get your treatment for free or at a reduced cost. This will vary depending on your circumstances. For example, if you’re under 18, pregnant or receiving certain benefits, you will receive free treatment.
If you see a dentist privately, you will need to pay all of your treatment costs. The costs of private root canal treatment will vary from dentist to dentist. It will also depend on how severe the problem is and the type of tooth being treated.
Ask your dentist for information about costs before you start your treatment.
Will I need to have a crown put on after root canal treatment?
You may need to have a crown fitted over your tooth that has had root canal treatment. This is because it can help to strengthen and protect your tooth from further damage. Crowns are caps made out of a material like porcelain, which fit over your tooth to protect it.
Crowns are used to cover teeth that have been broken, or have been weakened by a large filling, decay or after root canal treatment. If your tooth has been badly damaged, you’re likely to need a crown after root canal treatment.
Your dentist will take an impression of your tooth using a soft, mouldable material. He will have your crown made based on the impression to make sure it’s the right shape and size. You will be given a temporary crown while the permanent one is made. This isn’t as strong as a permanent crown but you should still be able to chew your food with it in place.
Your dentist will then fit the permanent crown. He will make sure you can bite comfortably with it in and then secure it into place. If a lot of your tooth is missing, your dentist may insert a peg into your root canal to hold the crown in place. It should last for many years if you look after your teeth well. You can look after your teeth by brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use dental floss or interdental brushes too to clean between your teeth daily.
Cut down on eating sugary foods or drinks and have them only at mealtimes. You can also take care of your teeth by visiting your dentist regularly for a check up. Your dentist will advise you on how often you should go.
- Quality guidelines for endodontic treatment; consensus report of the European Society of Endodontology. Int Endod J 2006; 39:921–30 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2591.2006.01180.x
- Mitchell L, Mitchell DA. Oxford handbook of clinical dentistry. 5th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013:254–5, 276–291
- Teeth. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published September 2013
- Caries. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published September 2013
- Dental abscess. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published September 2012
- Pulpitis. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published September 2013
- Guidelines for surgical endodontics. Royal College of Surgeons. www.rcseng.ac.uk, published 2012
- Methods of diagnosis and treatment in endodontics: a systematic review. Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment. www.sbu.se, published November 2010
- Further information. British Endodontic Society. www.britishendodonticsociety.org.uk, accessed 6 January 2014
- Pain management in dentistry. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 3 February 2012
- Root canal treatment. British Dental Health Foundation. www.dentalhealth.org, accessed 6 January 2014
- Dental recall. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, October 2004. www.nice.org.uk
- FAQs. BDA Smile (British Dental Association). www.bdasmile.org, accessed 7 January 2014
- Caring for my teeth. British Dental Health Foundation. www.dentalhealth.org,accessed 7 January 2014
- Analgesics. British National Formulary (online). www.medicinescomplete.com, London: BMJ group and Pharmaceutical Press, accessed 7 January 2014 (online version)
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information Team, February 2014.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
HONcodeThis site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
Plain English Campaign
Our website is approved by the Plain English Campaign and carries their Crystal Mark for clear information. In 2010, we won the award for best website.
Website approved by Plain English Campaign.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way