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Root canal treatment is scary for a lot of patients and they want to know just how long it will last before they end up doing it. We outline the expected survival rate, the after-care, and the steps to be taken if further infection happens.

Getting a root canal done is not a very pleasant thought for most people, although newer advances in root canal techniques have made it a painless procedure in the overwhelmingly majority of cases.

Once a patient has no choice but to get a tooth root canal treated to save it, one of the questions that naturally arise is about the longevity of the treatment. How long does a root canal treated tooth last? Is there any further care that needs to be taken by the patient? What happens if the root canal treated tooth starts to pain or cause trouble down the line?

Let us try and answer some of the most common questions around the longevity of root canal treatment.

How long does root canal treatment last?

A well-performed root canal treatment can last a lifetime without causing any further problems to the patient [1], however, there is no way to actually predict until when a root canal treated tooth will last. There are several studies done on this subject which have followed the survival rate of root canal treated teeth for a number of years [2].

Most of the studies report a survival rate between 88 and 95 percent depending upon the techniques that have been followed to perform the root canal treatment [3].

It is also generally seen that a poorly performed root canal treatment will either not be able to eliminate the symptoms from the affected tooth completely or there will be a re-appearance of the symptoms within the first year. Once the tooth survives for this time, the long term prognosis becomes much better [4].

Root canal treatment involves the elimination of infection and the resolution of symptoms associated with that infection. It does not protect the tooth or make it immune from any further infection. This is where the part about "taking care" of the root canal treated tooth comes in.

How to take care of a root canal treated tooth?

One of the most basic things that must be done to protect a root canal treated tooth is to get a crown fixed on top of it [5]. This is something that the dentist will let the patient know about once the treatment has been started. There are a few cases where a crown may not be necessary but that should be left to the judgment of the patient.

Maintaining good oral hygiene to prevent the chance of further infection and weakening of the tooth, as well as the gums around it, is a pre-requisite that most people should be able to meet [6]. It can be achieved by brushing twice a day and visiting your dentist once every six months. That’s about it. Sometimes, the crown around a root canal treated tooth is not very good or chips off after a few years of use. Food lodgment in the area is something that will start to appear first and should signal to the patient to seek dental care to address that problem early.

If left as it is, the food lodgment will make oral hygiene maintenance in that area difficult and lead to infection of the root canal treated tooth and its neighbors [7].

Perhaps the most common cause of damage to a root canal treated tooth is it fracturing [8]. A root canal treated tooth can become more prone to fracture and although the crown on top helps to mitigate that somewhat, people with root canal treated teeth in their mouth have to be a bit careful about chewing extremely hard objects. The best thing is to avoid anything that is too hard or break into smaller pieces beforehand.

What happens if a root canal treated tooth gets re-infected?

There can be many reasons why a root canal treated tooth may need treatment down the line. The patient will start to have some pain with the tooth, difficulty in chewing, or a swelling near the tooth will appear without or without draining pus.

Irrespective of the reason why it happened, the person affected with have two basic choices [9]. The first is to get a re-root canal treatment done which will remove all the filling material from the tooth and the root to begin the root canal procedure from the first step.

The other option is to extract the tooth and think about replacement options later.

We always believe it is in the benefit of the patient to try and save the tooth but sometimes extraction of the tooth is the only available option.

What is the most important factor to help a root canal treated tooth last long?

The most important factor is not in the patient’s hands, and that is the skill of the dentist. Try and choose someone you trust and is preferably a specialist in the field. Dentists who specialize in the field of root canal treatment are called endodontists.

There is a better chance of receiving high-quality root canal treatment at the hands of a dentist who has done nothing but sharpen their skills in performing that procedure and learning the latest techniques for three years [10].  

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