When people ask how long a root canal procedure lasts, they can mean one of two things: First, how long does the root canal procedure itself take, and second, how long until they might need to have the procedure redone?
The Root Canal Procedure
A root canal procedure is necessary when the pulp at the core of a tooth becomes infected. This is usually the result of an untreated cavity. The blood vessels and nerves inside the tooth become inflamed and swollen, causing pressure and pain.
A dentist, or in some cases, a root canal specialist called an endodontist, will first administer local anesthesia such as lidocaine. When the tooth is numb, they will drill into the tooth and remove the blood vessels and nerves. The empty space is then thoroughly cleaned. In many cases, an antibiotic will be applied to prevent any further infection before filing the hole with a rubber-like compound and capping it with a temporary filling or crown. Finally, a permanent crown is custom made to look and feel like the patient’s natural tooth.
How Long Does the Root Canal Procedure Take?
Most root canal procedures are done over the course of two visits. The first visit includes drilling, cleaning out the infected tissue, filling the hole left behind, and fitting the temporary filling or crown. The process typically takes approximately 90 minutes.
At the second visit, the temporary filling or crown is removed and the permanent one is put in place. In some cases, the dentist may put in a post to help the crown stay on. This too is done with a local anesthetic and will also last about 90 minutes. The reason a patient must wait for a second visit is to give technicians time to build the permanent crown. This is made using impressions taken of the patient’s tooth prior to the root canal procedure.
Crowns are used in most cases because drilling and hollowing out the tooth’s root can weaken the tooth considerably. A crown will protect the remaining tooth from the day-to-day wear and tear of talking, biting and chewing that can cause a crown to crack or break.
The entire process can sometimes be completed in only one longer visit, skipping the step of a temporary filling or crown. Most dentists, however, opt for the two-visit approach.
Additional Time for Recovery and Follow Up
Two visits lasting 90 minutes each is the answer to the question of how long a normal root canal procedure takes, but patients can expect some additional time for recovery and follow up.
There will be some pain after a root canal procedure, but it usually lasts only a day or two and can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. Quite often, patients have been experiencing so much discomfort leading up to the procedure, that they describe the pain afterward as minimal.
The dentist will usually want to do a follow-up exam in a few months. They will take x-rays and examine the tooth to ensure that the root canal procedure was successful. If there is lingering pain or any other problems with the tooth, the patient should contact the dentist right away rather than waiting for a follow-up appointment.
How Long Does the Root Canal Procedure Last?
When a root canal procedure is successful, the restored tooth can last a lifetime. In a small number of cases (roughly 5%) root canal procedures fail and need to be redone.
Saying a root canal has failed does not mean the dentist or endodontist has done a bad job or that the patient has done something wrong. Sometimes factors outside their control can result in needing root canal retreatment.
The most common reasons for root canal failure are:
- Missing infected tissue. Teeth can have multiple roots and the canals can be tiny or curved. These canals might be so small and hard to see that the dentist might not reach all tissue needing removal.
- Reinfection. The longer the wait for a permanent crown, the greater the risk that the tooth might become reinfected. Bacteria might get back into the canal by slipping past a temporary crown that doesn’t fit well.
- Damaged crowns. Over time and day-to-day life, crowns can wear, crack, or break off, allowing bacteria in again. The tooth itself can be weakened by the procedure enough that it might be more susceptible to breaking off due to trauma. No matter how it happens, crowns aren’t indestructible. The tooth will need a repeat root canal procedure, or of if the damage is too severe, extraction may be necessary.
Symptoms of root canal failure include pain, sensitivity, and swelling, just as before the original procedure. It may be weeks, months, or even years in the case of a crown breaking before the patient knows there is a problem.
Extending the Life of a Root Canal
The most important thing a patient can do to extend the life of a root canal is to practice good dental hygiene. Good dental care that includes regular brushing, flossing, and visits to the dentist is key. If you’re looking for a dentist or endodontist, our online search tool can help.
To summarize, the answer to “how long does a root canal procedure take?” is two visits of 90 minutes each. Anyone who has suffered through an infected tooth will agree that’s a reasonable investment of time.
“How long does a root canal procedure last?” varies, but when all goes well and proper care is taken, it can last forever.