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Frequently Asked Questions


What is an Endodontist and what do they do?

Endodontists are dentists who specialize in maintaining teeth through endodontic therapy — procedures, involving the soft inner tissue of the teeth, called the pulp. The word “endodontic” comes from “endo” meaning inside and “odont” meaning tooth. Like many medical terms, it’s Greek. All dentists are trained in diagnosis and endodontic therapy, however, some teeth can be especially difficult to diagnose and treat. That’s why you may have been referred to an endodontic specialist.

In addition to dental school, endodontists receive two or more years of advanced education in this kind of treatment. They study root canal techniques and procedures in greater depth, for diagnosis and treatment of more difficult cases. For this reason, many dentists choose to refer their patients to endodontists.


What Happens During Endodontic Treatment? or What is a Root Canal?

A local anesthetic will be given for numbing. A latex or non-latex sheet called the “rubber dam” will be placed around the tooth to isolate it, making it sterile and easy to clean. The treatment consists of three or four steps, but the number of visits will depend on your particular tooth and the type of infection it has. Some treatments may take 2 appointments but many are just a single appointment.

Small instruments will be used with a variety of antimicrobial rinses to clean your tooth. Once your tooth is cleaned to an acceptable range, we will place filling material, called gutta percha, in each of the root canals to seal them up. Finally, we will place a temporary filling in the top of the tooth that will be good for 3 weeks.

Root canal therapy has a high degree of success, up to 90% in many cases. We will discuss with you risks, benefits and chances of success before any endodontic procedure to help you make the best decision. If root canal therapy is unsuccessful or fails you still have several options before taking out the tooth.


Will the treatment be painful?

We will take every measure to ensure that your procedure is in no way uncomfortable or painful. If treatment is needed, we will inject a small amount of anesthesia to gently numb a concentrated area of your mouth, and occasionally it will require a nerve block for more profound numbing. For most patients, the feeling of numbness usually subsides after 2-3 hours after the appointment.


Will I need to return to your office for follow-ups after the procedure is finished?

Yes, for most root canal treatments, we recommend that patients return to the office sometimes at 6 months and definitely at 1 year after the procedure was finished. Some abscesses may take up to 2 years to heal properly, so follow-up is very important to ensure success of the root canal. Our office will send a reminder email or text to you when you are due for a recall appointment.


What should I expect after root canal treatment?

For most patients, root canal therapy does not cause significant post-operative discomfort or pain. The amount of discomfort depends on several factors, such as the presence of pain or swelling before treatment. It is not unusual to experience continued mild discomfort to biting and chewing for up to a week after treatment. In most cases, over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) are more than adequate. Patients that present with significant pain and swelling from an infected tooth or from a previously treated but re-infected tooth may have a longer period of post-treatment discomfort.


How should I care for the tooth after treatment?

Your tooth has a small temporary filling on the biting surface following root canal therapy. Avoid chewing on the tooth until anesthetic has fully worn off. You may want to continue to avoid chewing on the tooth for a few days if it is tender, but you should not have to change your diet. Remember, you need to return to your dentist as soon as you can for the final restoration, ideally no later than 3 weeks after your root canal has been completed.


How will I know if there is a problem?

There is very little likelihood that an acute emergency will occur after root canal treatment that will require immediate intervention. Some things to look for would be a rapidly progressive swelling, difficulty swallowing or breathing, or high fever. These things rarely occur after treatment. Pain that is of moderate intensity but manageable with pain relievers should not be concerning to the patient.


Do I need antibiotics following root canal?

Depending on your situation, you may not need antibiotics. There are few instances though where an antibiotic is indicated, and it is rarely indicated after routine root canals. Cases where significant swelling, lymph node involvement, or fever is present may warrant antibiotics.


Recommended medications

600 mg of Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or a generic) every 6 hours for 2 days, unless allergic to ibuprofen or aspirin- containing products or your doctor does not recommend taking it for health reasons. If allergic to aspirin and aspirin-containing products, you can take 650 mg of Tylenol (acetaminophen) every 6 hours. In some instances you may have been given a prescription for a pain reliever or steroid. If so, follow those direction exactly as directed.


After hours

All patients that have had treatment are given Dr. Smith’s number in case of a true emergency. Routine questions are best answered during normal business hours.


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