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Root canal treatment almost always involved multiple visits to the dentist a few years back but that is not the case anymore. Root canal treatment can be provided much quicker and reliably in most cases, although, some still require more than one sitting.

Root canal treatment is one of the most commonly used treatment methods in dental clinics around the world. It is performed for a wide variety of reasons, including an advanced level of tooth decay, tooth fracture, post-trauma to the teeth, and before crown procedures in some cases [1].

Conditions that require root canal treatment are often associated with severe pain and this is also the reason why the procedure can be a little uncomfortable for the patient. It is understandable that patients in such a situation would want the procedure over and done with as quickly as possible. A lack of time and busy schedules also make multiple visits to the dentist undesirable for a lot of people.

How many visits does it take for root canal treatment to be completed?

The answer to this question depends upon the tooth in question and the clinical situation. If for example, the reason for needing root canal treatment is tooth decay without any spread of infection beyond the root, then there is a very good chance that the treatment can be completed in one or two sittings [2].

For teeth in the front of the mouth, where accessibility is good and only a single canal is present, the treatment can actually be completed in fifteen to twenty minutes. For teeth in the back, which may have three or four canals, the treatment can be completed in about half an hour [3]. For teeth that need a root canal because of trauma or a fracture, the same applies. Treatment can easily be completed in one single sitting or maybe a maximum of two [4].

If, however, the severity of infection is quite high, which would manifest as swelling (inside the mouth or even visible on the face), or the infection has spread beyond the end of the roots into the jaws or to a tooth which has been previously treated, then multiple sittings may be required to complete the root canal treatment [5].

Three to four sittings and sometimes more are required to completely rid the tooth of infection in such cases. Each appointment will be used to replace the medications inside the tooth as needed.

Patients who are medically compromised, like those suffering from poorly controlled diabetes, HIV or other conditions that reduce their immunity, should also be treated in multiple sittings to ensure the infection has completely been eradicated before root canal treatment is completed [6].

Is single-sitting root canal treatment better?

The end result of root canal treatment should be a complete eradication of infection, pain, and restoration of the tooth to its complete function [7]. Whether this result is reached in one sitting or three should not really make a difference.

The reality of our world today is that we want excellent results quickly. Newer advances in performing root canal treatment like the use of rotary instruments, instruments to increase the speed at which the canal is shaped, and the advent of digital imaging have made root canal treatment much quicker than before.

There are also quite a few studies that have proven that single sitting root canal treatment can be comparable to the conventional method of treatment in terms of longevity, patient comfort, and other parameters of judging success [8].

Single-sitting root canal treatment is definitely desirable wherever the clinical situation allows it, but that does not necessarily mean the final results are better.

Does single-sitting root canal treatment hurt less?

The first sitting of root canal treatment is always done under local anesthesia. If the entire procedure is to be completed in one sitting, then that’s the only appointment patients have to go through. Irrespective of that fact, though, the vast majority of the patients will not have any pain after their first sitting of root canal treatment is over [9].

In fact, the downside of performing root canal treatment in a single sitting is that the patient may develop post-operative pain after a few days [10]. The reasons for this could be some amount of infection that has not resolved or some amount of pulp tissue that got left behind. Since the patient has been under local anesthesia, the patient cannot know if the pain will return when the effect wears off.

Conclusion

Patients who are about to undergo root canal treatment should talk to their dentist and ascertain what the estimated amount of time or number of sittings required may be. In most cases, erring on the side of caution and getting the job done with the proper amount of time dedicated to disinfection of the canal is preferable.

Your dentist does not have anything to gain by prolonging the treatment time more than necessary and will want to complete the treatment in the least sittings necessary. Once you have chosen a dentist, trust his or her clinical judgment regarding the pace with which treatment will be completed.

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