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Dental and Oral Health Center

Dentist performed incomplete root canal



Hello. I have a question regarding an issue I am experiencing and I want to gather more information about it. I will try to be detailed in this question. Last year, I had root canal therapy and a crown on a decayed tooth (second molar on up left). The tooth has been hurting intermittently since then. A bump appeared above it last November, but the dentist said not to worry. I wasn`t much bothered by the pain, but during my recent cleaning I was told it was not normal to have this pain. So I asked for a re-examination.

After all the x-rays, the dentist showed me the x-ray and explained that he did the root canal on only one of the canals/roots and it seems that the other canal/root, which he did not do root canal on has become infected, created an abcess during the past year and now I need surgery. He said I shouldn`t worry and it was standard. My question is two-fold: Is it standard in the U.S. for dentists to perform incomplete root canal therapy (I am a European transplant, so I am not sure what is right and wrong here)? Next, what do you think my logical options are? Are there any other possible procedures that I should ask about except for surgery? Thank you beforehand.


When root canal therapy is provided for a posterior tooth with multiple roots, all the canals should be treated, if they can. On rare occasions, due to sclerosis or natural blockage of the canals, treatment cannot be completed on all of the roots. However, an attempt should be made.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you if this was the case for your tooth. There may have been circumstances why the other roots were not treated, but, in general, they should have. Your best option is to have the tooth evaluated by a root canal specialist (endodontist) to give you potential treatment options. The tooth may be able to be retreated without surgery.

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Response by:

John M Nusstein, DDS John M Nusstein, DDS
Associate Professor of Endodontics
College of Dentistry
The Ohio State University