How Long Does a Root Canal Take to Complete?

Young woman with severe toothache in a dental chair before root canal procedure

Root canal therapy has a reputation for being a long and painful procedure. However, this perception is based on outdated information. Root canals can now be completed in very little time and without pain in many circumstances. If you wonder, “How long does a root canal take to complete?” the simple and honest answer is – it depends. There are several factors that contribute to the length of a root canal. First, you need to know what a root canal entails and then the factors involved to calculate how long a root canal will take to complete.

What Is Root Canal Therapy?

All teeth have one to four roots that are attached to the jawbone. The live tissue and nerve roots are within the roots in the soft, inner pulp of the tooth. When there is infection, disease or damage to the inside tissue in the tooth, the nerve roots can be irritated, causing severe pain. Root canal therapy removes the infected or damaged pulp and nerve roots through the top of the tooth. A dentist disinfects the interior of the tooth and repacks it with sterilized material, then seals the top of the tooth. In most cases, a dental crown is placed over the remaining tooth to protect it from further damage. Root canals are often the only option to save a severely diseased or damaged tooth.

How Long Does a Root Canal Take?

There are several factors that contribute to the length of time a root canal procedure will take. In the past, it was not uncommon for a root canal to require two or more visits. This was due to less efficient and accurate imaging and other technology that has improved over the years. Plus, most dental crowns were made in a dental lab, which could take a few weeks to create. The process can be much quicker now, but each root canal procedure can vary in length, depending on certain factors.
Relaxed happy man in a dental chair after having root canal completed

Type of Anesthesia
Root canals can be performed with local anesthesia that numbs the nerves in and surrounding the tooth. However, some patients prefer to have sedation, which may require a little longer to take effect and wear off. The type of anesthesia used can impact how long the root canal procedure will take to complete, varying from a few minutes to 20 minutes or more to allow for sedation to take effect.
Size of Tooth
The first factor to determine how long a root canal will take is the size of the tooth. Front teeth may only have one root to clean out, while back molars can have up to four roots. The interior of the tooth must be meticulously cleaned out and disinfected to ensure no infection is left behind. Most root canal procedures can be completed in less than an hour, but this can vary depending on the size of a tooth. A single root tooth may take about 30 minutes to clean the root, but molars can require 90 minutes or more to disinfect all the root canals.
Level of Infection
Most root canals can be performed in one visit with the advanced imaging and medical technology available. However, there are complex tooth infections that may require more than one visit. If the tooth needs enhanced disinfection, medication may be placed inside the tooth and a second appointment is needed to finish cleaning and packing the tooth.
Installing a Dental Crown
Another factor that will impact the length of time and number of appointments needed for a root canal is the dental crown. Once the interior of the tooth is removed, the structure is weakened. A crown can restore a tough exterior for function, as well as improve the appearance. However, a crown must be created to exact proportions to ensure a perfect fit. If the crown will be made at a dental lab, a physical or digital impression is taken of the tooth. This can be used to make a temporary crown and sent to the dental lab to create the permanent crown. It may take a week or longer for the dentist to receive the new crown from the lab.
Some dentists offer same-day dental crowns, which can be created and put on the tooth in the same visit as the root canal. It can require a few hours to design the crown and place it on the tooth, but this can eliminate a second appointment to replace a temporary with a permanent crown.

How long does a root canal take? In some cases, you could have a root canal completed in one to two hours in a single visit. More complex root canals may require multiple visits lasting an hour or more per visit. The good news is, the procedure is much more streamlined with the advanced technology available, and a root canal can save a severely infected or damaged tooth. To learn more about getting a root canal and how long it will take to complete, contact your local dentist.