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How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

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A root canal is a procedure to remove any infection from the tooth and can prevent you from losing a tooth. Root canals are different for every patient, meaning how long it takes will depend on how severe the infection is and which tooth needs treatment. Below we look more into how long a root canal takes.

How long will a root canal take?

An average root canal appointment may take anywhere from 1 hour, to 1 hour and 30 minutes. This is just a general rule and a root canal may take longer if it’s more complex. The amount of time a root canal can take will depend on many factors, including:

  • How bad the infection is
  • Other issues or concerns that need treatment
  • Which tooth is infected

No matter how long it takes, a root canal should never be painful. Do not let the time of the appointment scare you, as you will be given a numbing medication so that you will not feel anything but mild discomfort whilst the dentist works. A root canal is performed in either one or two appointments, depending on what needs to be done.

How to tell if you need a root canal

Teeth are made up of several layers including enamel and dentin, which is the hard layer that we can see. Under this hard layer is a tissue called pulp. This is the tissue that connects your tooth to the gums and bone. Pulp is a living tissue, meaning it has blood vessels and nerves running through it. That is why you are likely to feel pain when it becomes infected. 

When the pulp becomes infected, it is time for a root canal. A root canal procedure can remove any infected pulp, including any damaged nerves. Usually this happens due to:

  • Cavities
  • Chips or cracks in the tooth
  • Repeated dental work

You may experience pain or sensitivity in the area. If you do, do not leave this untreated as the infection can spread and cause an abscess and other infections in the body. 

When will a root canal take two appointments?

Sometimes a root canal can take two appointments. This is usually when the infection is quite severe, or the tooth that has become infected is near the back of the mouth, such as the one of the molars. Splitting the procedure into more than one appointment can make the root canal more comfortable for the patient and help ensure that the dentist does not carry out too much work at once which could cause pain after.  

If you do need two appointments, the first appointment will be focused on removing any infected pulp from the tooth. After this is removed, the dentist will apply an antibacterial medication so that your tooth does not get infected again before you come back for your next appointment. It is extremely important that you come back on the day your dentist has told you to avoid the tooth from becoming infected again.

The second appointment will involve cleaning the tooth if this wasn’t done during the first appointment. A permanent seal, such as a filling, can then be placed over the tooth, to help ensure the sensitive part of the tooth is now covered. You may need a crown, depending on how much of the pulp was removed. Your dentist will speak to you about your options before the appointment. 

Root canals on different teeth

Root canals can take longer depending on which tooth is infected. Molars, which are the teeth right at the back of the mouth, will take the longest time. This is because they can contain up to four roots. This means it will require more time to remove the infection, clean the teeth, and then fill the tooth. These appointments usually take around 90 minutes, or may be split into two appointments.

Premolars, which are the teeth before the molars and behind the front teeth, usually only have two roots, meaning an average appointment can take around one hour.  This will depend on how bad the infection is and the anatomy of your premolars. 

Canine and incisors are located at the front of the mouth, meaning they are the easiest teeth to perform a root canal on. This is because they only have one root. These appointments usually take around an hour but like premolars, it will depend on the infection and tooth. 

Root canals can take one or two appointments, with each appointment lasting between an hour to 90 minutes. The time of the root canal should not worry you, as a trained dentist knows how to do the procedure effectively and pain-free. If you think you need a root canal, be sure to speak to your dentist as soon as possible, as any infection in the mouth needs to be treated to avoid further damage.

Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He is interested in mental health and well-being.

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