The Root Canal Procedure Explained

Are you in need of this treatment (due to pain, infection or other symptoms) and wondering what’s involved with a root canal procedure?

Read on for our quick guide to what you can expect…

To get a root canal treatment (RCT); the dentist first accesses the pulp chambers inside the tooth, then cleans it out and finally fills it. This is all done under local anesthetic to make sure the RCT is painless. The downside of the procedure is that it can take several visits to complete.

Take a look at the picture graphic and read the notes below for a run-through what to expect if getting a RCT.


"Graphic of the dental root canal procedure"

The root canal procedure summarised.


A brief run-through of the root canal treatment procedure

There may be some variation, but the process usually consists of these steps:

  • The area will be numbed and the dentist will get access into the tooth through its back (for an incisor or canine) or its top (for a molar or premolar). The dentist will then need to locate each canal and clean out the damaged pulp inside. This is a time-consuming task, as the spaces involved are so tiny.
  • A ‘rubber-dam‘ will be placed around the tooth to keep it dry during the procedure. The area needs to be kept free from saliva to prevent infection of the canals.
  • The root canals must be cleaned, shaped and filled to a precise length to ensure the best chance of success of the treatment. X-rays are the most common way of measuring the length of the roots, but electronic devices can also be used.
  • Each canal is shaped to an exact length, using metal files. The files slightly expand these narrow chambers, taking away any infected material and also making them easier to fill. This labor-intensive job has been made easier in recent years with the development of machinery that does much of the “filing”.
  • Once happy that the pulp chamber and canals are cleaned and free of infection, the dentist must fill this space. This is done using a rubber material (gutta percha), which will help ensure the space will not get re-infected. A final X-ray is taken to check the RCT filling.
  • Once the RCT is finished, the dentist may place a temporary filling. This, as the name suggests, is not meant to last. The tooth will soon need either a permanent filling or a crown. Which of these is placed will depend on the state of the tooth (ie how strong it is after the work). Read more on a crown procedure here.


Here is a very brief video explaining the above


A dental x-ray showing a tooth after a root canal procedure

Being a routine dental treatment, RCT is one which your dentist will usually be happy to do for you. With more complicated teeth, the dentist may refer you to an endodontist; a specialist in the treatment. The procedure is carried out over one or more visits. The number of visits required will depend on the difficulty of the case.

“How long does a root canal take?” – A simple root canal may be completed in half an hour. A complicated procedure can take several hours to complete over a number of visits. The procedure on a front tooth will generally be more straightforward than on a molar. This is because RCT on a front tooth usually involves treating one easy-to-access canal. A molar can involve treating up to four tight and difficult canals!


If you are still concerned about the treatment, see our page entitled “Does a root canal hurt?” We have advice on pain after root canal procedure here. A look at the procedure cost can be found here.

Return here to our main page on endodontic treatment.

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