It seems that no phrase in dental procedures strikes more fear into the hearts of patients than that of “root canal.”

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Modern technology and medications allow us to perform root canals with minor discomfort. In fact, keeping our patients calm and comfortable is one of our priorities at Sheehan Dental, no matter what the procedure is.


We’d like to give you a little information about root canals on this page because we believe that the more you know about a procedure, the less scary it becomes. As always, if we don’t cover your questions here, feel free to contact us.


What is a “root canal”?

Actually, “root canal” is the name of the area that the procedure focuses on, although that phrase is commonly used to refer to the process dentists call “endodontic treatment.” The word “endodontic” comes from two Greek words that, together, give you a hint as to what the procedure entails. “Endo” is the Greek word for “inside” and “odont” is the Greek word for tooth. In other words, an endodontic procedure takes place inside the tooth.


In order to explain what a root canal is, it’s helpful to know a bit about how teeth are constructed. The outer, white layer of a tooth is the enamel. Under the enamel is the dentin. Dentin is a hard substance that makes up the majority of the bulk of your tooth. Inside the dentin is pulp. Pulp is a soft substance that, as the tooth is grows, “feeds” the tooth. If you think of your tooth like an apple, the enamel is the apple skin, the flesh of the apple is the dentin, and the seed of the apple – which contains everything needed to create not only the apple but also a whole new apple tree! – is the pulp.


Inside the roots of your teeth, there is a thin canal where the pulp is. This is the root canal. When you need a root canal procedure, it is this area – the canal of pulp in the root of your tooth – that will be worked on.


Why do I need a root canal?

Generally, a root canal is performed when a dentist detects that there is infection or inflammation in the pulp of the root canal. A root canal infection can be quite painful. An untreated infected root canal can cause an abscess at the base of the root. Abscesses – pockets of infection – can cause medical emergencies in some cases. In the past, a root canal infection was a sure way to lose a tooth, which can lead to other dental and general health problems. For that reason, whenever you are experiencing tooth pain, you should have your tooth investigated by a dental professional as soon as possible.


Do root canals hurt?

First of all, remember that an infection in your root canal will likely cause you considerable discomfort. A root canal treatment will relieve that pain.


That being said, Dr. Sheehan uses the most advanced techniques and medications to make you as comfortable as possible during your procedure. A local anesthetic is used to numb the area around the tooth and if at any time during your procedure you begin to feel pain, you can let Dr. Sheehan know and he will do his best to make you comfortable again. Most patients report that the procedure itself was really not that painful.


For a few days after the procedure, the area around the tooth that was treated may be sore but over-the-counter painkillers and, in some case, prescription medications, will generally treat any discomfort that you have. Dr. Sheehan and his staff will be happy to discuss pain management with you before or after your procedure.


Will a root canal save my tooth?

In many cases, having a root canal will save a tooth that even a decade or two ago would have been lost. Your tooth will need a filling from where Dr. Sheehan drills in it to reach the root canal and infected areas. If the tooth was cracked or broken, or if the decay in the tooth was substantial enough that there is not very much tooth left, Dr. Sheehan may insert a tiny post into the root canal in order to hold the tooth filling in place. In the most serious of cases, if the tooth cannot be saved, a dental implant may be the next step in restoring your smile.