Normally, a root canal procedure takes two visits to the dentist or endodontist. But advertisements promising a “same day root canal” are becoming common. Can dentists do a root canal in one visit, or is this just a marketing ploy?
It turns out that getting a same-day root canal procedure is indeed possible. But the procedure is not available everywhere or for every patient. Some dental professionals are not equipped to fix the tooth in one day. And depending on the tooth’s condition, it might be best not to rush the process.
The Typical Root Canal Procedure
Every tooth has a bundle of nerves and blood vessels that run through its core, known as the root canal. Decay, or something like a crack or chip, can breach the canal, letting in bacteria. This can result in a painful infection like pulpitis and eventually dental pulp necrosis.
A root canal procedure is necessary to save the tooth. This can be done by a regular dentist, or a root canal specialist called an endodontist.
The procedure involves drilling a hole in the tooth and removing all of the infected tissue inside. If the tooth is stable and strong enough after cleaning out the root, it may be filled with regular dental filling material. This counts as a same-day root canal.
If too much of the tooth’s structure is gone, or if the tooth is one used for heavy chewing, the patient will need a dental crown. Dental crowns are made to look and feel like real teeth. Impressions of the tooth are sent away to a lab where technicians custom build the crown to fit the patient’s mouth. This is why a second appointment is often necessary.
If the dental plan includes a custom crown, the tooth is fitted with a temporary crown after the drilling and cleaning. This protects the tooth for the one to two week period while they wait for the permanent crown. The patient leaves the dental office able to eat and drink normally.
In this sense, some might consider the process complete in one day—with a temporary crown. When promises are made for a “same day root canal”, patients need to know if it includes the placement of the permanent crown or just a temporary one. While the patient’s pain is taken care of and they have a solution to their immediate problem, the procedure is not done yet.
Same Day Placement of a Permanent Crown
A true same-day root canal includes drilling, cleaning, and placing the permanent crown all in one appointment. New technology makes this possible, as long as the dentist or endodontist has a lab on site.
Dental practices that have invested in this cutting-edge software and equipment can create a crown while the patient waits. This adds approximately one more hour to the usual 1- to 3-hour appointment.
In the usual procedure, the dentist makes a putty impression of the tooth to send to the lab. Instead, this process uses a handheld scanner to make a 3D image. An on-site milling machine uses these precise measurements to carve the crown from porcelain or composite resin.
Once complete, the dentist bonds the crown to the tooth. The patient leaves the office with a permanent solution to their root canal problem.
Is a Same Day Root Canal More Expensive?
The technology needed to make crowns on-site is a significant investment. Patients are unlikely to find a low-cost or “budget” dentist who provides the service. Dental offices that can afford the cutting-edge equipment might already be at the higher end when it comes to cost. And, as with most things, there is often a higher price for speed and convenience.
On the other hand, same-day root canals mean that there is no need for a temporary crown or a second appointment. Savings for these two things might balance out with the cost of having the procedure completed in one day.
As for insurance…whether a root canal is done in one or two appointments should not impact coverage. A more important consideration is whether the dentist who provides the faster procedure is in the patient’s plan. Because not every dentist can do a same-day root canal, patients could have trouble finding someone in their insurance network.
When considering same-day root canal procedures, ask the dentist for an estimate of the cost. They may also offer payment options that make the work more affordable.
Limitations of Same Day Root Canals
In addition to not being available at every dental practice, same-day root canals have some other limitations.
While the technology is constantly improving, it does not always shape crowns as precisely as more traditional methods. The equipment might not be capable of the refinement needed to make a crown “perfect”. There may be tiny imperfections in the shaping that are fine for less noticeable molars but could stand out on front teeth.
The digital 3D scanners can only map out the tooth above the gumline. If there is damage to a tooth that requires a crown to extend down below the gum, a putty mold is still the best way to go.
That said, a straightforward root canal procedure on a tooth that does not need any intricate shaping or refinement is a good candidate for a same-day root canal.
Is Same Day Root Canal a Good Idea?
Sometimes, taking one’s time is a good thing. This is the case for complicated root canals or severe infections.
Molars, for example, have more than one root. It takes longer to clear the decayed tissue out of the tiny branches off of the main canal. This not only adds time to the procedure but there is also a greater chance of missing some infected tissue. Severe infections need special care, and dentists often want to make sure the tooth is healing properly before sealing it off with a crown.
Presented with either of these conditions, the dentist might prefer to wait a few weeks anyway, whether the crown is made on-site or elsewhere.
When a patient needs an emergency root canal, it can also be beneficial to place a temporary crown rather than a same-day permanent one. Instead of making decisions in haste, this gives the dentist and patient time to consider all of the options available (crown materials, payment options, etc.) and come up with the best treatment plan.
Getting a root canal is not on anyone’s list of fun things to do. It’s only logical that patients will want to get it taken care of as quickly as possible. When same-day root canal procedures are an option, they can do exactly that. As the technology evolves, it is certain to become more refined and more accessible to patients everywhere.
To find a dentist or endodontist who performs same-day root canals near you, use our online search tool.