It’s not uncommon to feel a twinge of anxiety when your dentist recommends a root canal. You may have heard some of the widespread misinformation about the treatment process: it will be painful, lead to health problems, or require a long and uncomfortable recovery period. However, this misinformation is mostly false. Root canal treatment has a very high rate of success and a relatively low level of associated pain or discomfort. In cases where your tooth was already hurting, you will likely feel reduced pain following treatment.
Root canal treatment is a common procedure used to treat dental conditions involving decay or infection of a tooth’s sensitive inner pulp. Root canal treatment is almost always a better and far less painful alternative to an extraction, particularly if the tooth is needed for esthetics or chewing.1 In this article, we’ll walk you through what to expect following root canal treatment, how to manage any short-term discomfort you may experience during recovery, and how to maintain your now healthy tooth for a lifetime.
Is root canal treatment painful?
While there’s a common myth that root canal treatment is excruciating, this is false – modern medicine and anesthetics have made the procedure almost entirely pain-free. In fact, most people experience a reduction in pain following a root canal because of the removal of the damaged, inflamed or infected tooth pulp.2
During the treatment process, your dentist or endodontist will administer a local anesthetic to numb the tooth and area surrounding the tooth, so you won’t be able to feel anything during the procedure.3 After the procedure, it’s normal to feel increased sensitivity or discomfort in the area for a few days, but pain is usually alleviated with over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen (e.g.; Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like Motrin, Aleve, and Advil. Saving your natural tooth is usually a better option than delaying treatment or having the tooth pulled – so any minor pain you may experience after a root canal is well worth it in the long run.
Will I experience pain or discomfort following a root canal?
As with any procedure or surgery, it’s normal to experience some tenderness or pain following a root canal. You may begin to notice mild discomfort after the local anesthetic has worn off, an hour or two after the procedure.4 There may be a slight soreness in your jaw, as well, from keeping your mouth open for an extended duration during the procedure.5
Pain after a root canal is typically mild and only lasts a few days; it is a normal and manageable after-effect. Many people will experience no pain at all – and studies show that only 3 to 6 percent of people treated with a root canal experience what they classify as “severe pain” in the days following the procedure.6
Any root canal pain should subside fairly quickly, but if you experience sudden, severe pain or worsening pain after two- or three-days following treatment, visible swelling, or if a temporary filling comes out, get to your dentist right away.7 In rare cases, more severely infected teeth may require a second cleaning of the tooth’s interior to remove any remaining damaged pulp.8
Post treatment care
In order to have a comfortable, successful recovery from your root canal treatment, make sure to follow these steps:
The time during and after a root canal procedure doesn’t have to be difficult or painful. Take pain medication as prescribed, practice healthy oral hygiene habits, and be gentle with the treated tooth until it feels normal and you have received your final filling or crown. When executed successfully, your root canal filled tooth and final restoration should last a lifetime. Nowadays, root canal treatment is very predictable and successful. Don’t let anxiety and misinformation keep you from getting the smile-saving treatment you need.
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1Reasons for Root Canal Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/what-is-a-root-canal/reasons-root-canal-treatment/.
2Myths About Root Canals. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/myths-root-canals/.
3,4,10Root Canal Recovery. (2019, February 7). Retrieved from https://penndentalmedicine.org/root-canal-recovery/.
5,7,9Root Canal Post Treatment Care - Endodontists: Specialist in Saving Teeth. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aae.org/patients/your-office-visit/post-treatment-care/.
6Law, A. S., Durand, E. U., Rindal, D. B., Nixdorf, D. R., & DPBRN Group. (2010). "Doctor, why does my tooth still hurt"? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3697825/.
8How Much Pain Will I Have After a Root Canal and When Should I Seek Help? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/pain-after-root-canal.