10 myths and facts about root canals

Questions about root canal

When someone says root canal, people around usually clench their teeth in nervousness. But why do root canals scare people so much? Most individuals think that a root canal is a very painful treatment. But with the advancement of dentistry and dental technologies, root canal procedures have considerably changed.

I wrote this article to make things clear about any types of myths surrounding root canal treatments and help people know the real facts and what to expect if they ever need one.

1 - A root canal treatment is a painful procedure

Root canal painFalse. A root canal does not cause pain. In fact, root canals are performed to relieve pain caused by inflammation of the pulp chamber (where the nerve is located) or a dental infection. The belief that a root canal hurts goes way back in the past. With modern anesthesia, this procedure is no more painful than doing a filling.

If there is severe dental infection, anesthesia may be more difficult to achieve and your dentist may decide to prescribe you antibiotics prior to the root canal treatment. If a root canal seems very complicated to achieve, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist, who is a colleague dentist that specializes in root canals.

2 - A root canal is a costly treatment

Root canal costTrue. Although a root canal is a pricey treatment, it does save a tooth and helps a person keep it and use it to maintain normal chewing functions. Having a root canal and a dental crown remains less expensive than extracting a tooth and then replacing it with a bridge or a dental implant.

Costs vary on how many canals a tooth has, whether it’s the first time the root canal is achieved or retreatment, or on who performs the root canal (general dentist or specialist).

3 - A root canal removes the pain immediately after the procedure

Root canal pain reliefFalse. After a root canal, the patient will feel significant improvement. However, it is normal for the tooth to be sensitive the first few days after treatment and the use of pain killers can help. Mild pain can be followed, especially while chewing, and it can last a few weeks. The pain should disappear completely however after that time.

Is it possible not to feel any pain at all after a root canal procedure? Yes it's possible, and this depends on how complicated was the treatment and on whether or not the tooth was infected before treatment.

4 - Root canals do not work

Root canal failuresFalse. Although nothing can replace your tooth completely, a root canal that is done well, with an appropriate filling or crown, has a very high success rate. In about 85% of cases, treatments can last a lifetime.

If a tooth becomes infected again years after root canal has been done, it can often be retreated. However, in certain situations, such as tooth fracture, root decay that is too deep, or severe bone loss around the tooth, your dentist may have no choice but to extract the affected tooth.

5 - It is normal that a tooth remains a little sensitive after a root canal

Root canal sensitivityFalse. It is not normal to experience persistent pain that could last a few months after root canal treatment has been performed on a tooth. Among the causes of pain that remains are hidden canals that were not cleaned during the procedure, or the tooth itself being broken all the way to the root.

In these rare cases of persistent pain, patients could be referred to consult an endodontist, who is a specialist for root canals, to get a diagnosis and have the tooth treated. In cases where the root of a tooth is fractured, no treatment can be done to save that tooth and the only thing to do is to have it extracted.

6 - A root canal "kills" the tooth

Root canal kills a tooth?False. A root canal cleans and disinfects the inside of the tooth to allow it to heal; it does not kill a tooth. The nerves and the blood vessels located in the pulp chamber server for the development of a tooth when a person is a child or a teenager.

Later in life, the nerve's function is to cause pain when something is wrong with the tooth, whether it's decay, infection, inflammation or trauma. Pain is therefore a defence mechanism that alarms a person to seek help.

7 - It is necessary to take powerful painkillers after a root canal

Root canal and powerful painkillersMore or less true. The pain experienced after a root canal is usually caused by inflammation around the tooth and it only lasts for a temporary amount of time. This inflammation is often best treated with common pain killers like anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or with acetamynophen (Tylenol).

In case of more severe pain that persists months after the root canal procedure has been done, it is recommended to consult your dentist or your endodontist search for possible complications.

8 - Teeth undergoing root canal treatment often need a crown

Dental crownTrue. Usually teeth that need root canal treatment have very big cavities or big fillings. A tooth with a big filling is more at risk to be fractured. For this reason, your dentist may recommend the placement of a post and a crown after the root canal procedure.

Some dentists place a post and a filling on a tooth right after the root canal has been done. Although the post gives more strength to the tooth than placing just a filling alone, a crown is still recommended to make the tooth stronger.

9 - Root canal treatment is a lengthy process that requires several appointments

Root canal timeFalse. Today, root canal treatment may take between one and two hours if there are no complications. The number of appointments often depends on the condition of the tooth and the number of canals it has.

In cases where infection is severe, your dentist or endodontist may place a drug inside to help disinfect the interior of the roots, and then finish the root canal treatment a few days later. But if there is no infection or no complications, the procedure can be completed in one single appointment.

10 - A tooth with a root canal treatment that has failed should always be extracted

Root canal and extractionFalse. The success rate of root canals is about 85%. If a root canal has been done years ago and re-causes pain or infection, the tooth can often be retreated.

A retreatment is a procedure of redoing the root canal by re-cleaning the inside of the roots, disinfecting and obtruding each canal. Some teeth may require an apectomy instead, which is a microsurgery used to remove the tip of the root. Modern techniques of restatements and microsurgeries work well.


  1. Root Canals Myths (American Association of Endodontists).
  2. Ouch! 10 Mythes et réalités à propos du traitement de canal (styledevie.ca.msn.com).

The information above should be used as a reference only. Any medical decision should not be done before consulting a health care professional.

Last update: 9th of September 2011.

Other Articles

How to have a beautiful smile?
Having a beautiful and genuine smile can affect your surroundings and how people perceive you because it's a way to communicate something positive and peaceful.
10 things you didn't know about teeth
Some facts on teeth are interesting to share, and they can surprise even people working in the dental field!
Ebola virus disease
It is important that personnel of all health fields become knowledgeable about this highly contagious virus.
Can good dental care save money?
According to some estimates, regular preventive dental care can reduce overall treatment costs by as much as a factor of 10.
Halloween, good and bad treats
There are lots of candy options for Halloween, but which ones cause less harm for children's teeth?
Smoking and gum disease
Smoking not only makes gum disease worse, but it also makes gums very hard to heal after gum treatment is done.
Bisphosphonates and oral health care
Tooth extractions and dental implants are contraindicated when taking bisphosphonates intravenously.
10 myths and facts about root canals
Clearing myths surrounding root canal treatments to help people know the real facts and what to expect if they ever need one.
Oral Hygiene Kit for Travellers
What should you bring when you travel to make sure you keep your teeth and your gums clean.
Heart Disease and Dental Care
How someone with heart disease should be responsible for maintaining a healthy mouth by practicing good oral hygiene.
How Smoking affects Dental and Oral Health
Smoking is not only liked to lung cancer and heart disease, but can also affet oral health.
Sexual Hormones - Are Women more Prone to Cavities?
A physiological reason may be at cause of womens higher rates of cavities, more than just a behavioural observation.
Causes and Consequences of Tooth Loss
What to do to prevent tooth loss by understanding the consequences and the replacement options.
Pregnancy and Dental Care
Why should a pregnant woman be concerned about her oral health and dental treatments that need to be done.
Cancer Treatments and Oral Health
How to manage oral side effects caused from chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
A few Good Reasons why Flossing your Teeth every Day is so Important
Are you saying that brushing is not enough? Why should I floss as well?
Providing the best dental care for your kids
Simple tips that all parents should know for their children to have healthy teeth.
Avulsed Tooth What to Do When a Tooth Falls after an Accident
Detailed instructions on what to do when you lose an adult tooth following an accident.
Diabetes and Dental Care
Precautions that should be taken when you have diabetes to maintain good oral health.
The Loss of Teeth May Be Linked to Dementia
People with dementia might lose their teeth more rapidly. But losing your teeth too quickly might also cause dementia.