What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “root canal”? If you’re like most patients, you probably answered pain. But it’s a common misconception that root canals are painful.
In fact, root canals, when performed properly, are virtually painless. They’re also the best way to get relief from a damaged or infected tooth. The one thing that can increase the chance you might have soreness with a tooth is if you have a large infection that has spread.
If you think you may need a root canal and are worried about the procedure, we’re here to put your mind at ease. Let’s take a closer look at why you may need a root canal, what the procedure entails and the steps we take to make it pain-free.
Why You May Need a Root Canal
You may need a root canal if bacteria has invaded the pulp of your tooth. Typically, this happens when a cavity is left untreated for a long period of time.
Sometimes, root canals are needed after an injury that cracks or damages a tooth.
It’s important to remember that root canals are incredibly common procedures.
Signs You May Need a Root Canal
How do you know if you need a root canal? The best way to find out is to come into our office for a thorough exam and cleaning. But there are also some signs that you should be on the lookout for.
While some people do not experience any pain or symptoms, most people will experience one or more of the following:
- Persistent tooth pain. Tooth pain doesn’t always mean that you need a root canal. However, if you feel pain deep in your tooth or jaw, this may be a sign that you need root canal therapy.
- Swollen gums. Oral infections can cause pus to collect in the area, which can lead to swelling in the gums.
- Sensitivity to hot and cold. If you feel pain in your tooth each time you eat or drink something hot or cold, you may need a root canal.
- Tooth discoloration. When a tooth’s pulp becomes infected, it can cause discoloration due to the lack of blood supply to the tooth.
- Pain when applying pressure. If you feel pain every time you eat or touch your tooth, this may be a sign that the nerves surrounding the pulp are damaged.
- Loose tooth. Infected teeth may also feel loose because the pus infecting the pulp can soften the bone supporting the tooth.
Some people may also develop a boil or pimple on their gums. This lump is caused by pus from the infected tooth. Pus may drain from the boil and leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
What a Root Canal Entails
A root canal is a procedure that helps alleviate pain from an infected or abscessed tooth. When bacteria invade the pulp of a tooth, it can cause severe pain and discomfort. Root canals can help alleviate that pain.
During the procedure, we remove the inflamed pulp of the tooth, clean and disinfect the surfaces inside, and then use a filling to seal up the space.
In most cases, root canal treatments can be done in 1-2 appointments.
Here’s how the process works:
- First, you will be given a local anesthetic.
- Next, we’ll place a rubber dam around the tooth to protect it from bacteria in your saliva.
- The next step is to create an opening in the tooth to reach the pulp.
- Using fine instruments, we’ll remove the pulp by cleaning and enlarging the canal.
- Once cleaned and sanitized, we’ll fill and seal the canal.
- The opening of the tooth is then sealed with a permanent or temporary filling.
- A crown will then be cemented into place to restore your smile.
The process is relatively simple and straightforward. Most patients are done with the procedure in 30-60 minutes. Larger teeth with multiple roots may take up to 1.5 hours.
Most root canal treatments are a success, but in very rare cases, retreatment may be necessary. In this case, we will remove the filling material and then reclean, reshape and refill the canal.
The Benefits of a Root Canal
There are several advantages of getting a root canal. Root canal therapy can help:
- Ease the pain and discomfort of infection.
- Prevent infections from spreading to nearby teeth.
- Reduce the risk of damage to your jawbone.
- Save your tooth from extraction.
The only other alternative to a root canal is extraction. Our goal is to do everything possible to save your natural tooth, and a root canal is your best chance of doing that.
How We Make Sure Your Root Canal Won’t Hurt
A root canal sounds like a painful procedure, but thanks to local anesthesia, most patients do not experience any discomfort during treatment.
Here’s how we make sure that root canals don’t hurt:
- The treatment site will be numb. Our first step is to ensure that the entire area is completely numb throughout the entire procedure. Because the area is completely numb, you should feel nothing more than pressure during the treatment.
- We offer the option of sedation dentistry. For some patients, local anesthesia isn’t enough to ease discomfort and anxiety. It’s natural to have anxiety about this procedure, so sedation will help you feel more relaxed and at ease about the treatment.
By numbing the affected area and helping ease anxiety, root canals become a routine procedure.
Dental offices may offer three levels of sedation:
- Minimal: Oral medications are used. You’ll feel more relaxed, but you’ll also be conscious and responsive.
- Moderate: At this level, you may feel both relaxed and sleepy. Some patients lose consciousness, but you will still be responsive.
- Deep: You will be asleep and unresponsive during the treatment.
At our dental office, we offer all of our patients the option of conscious sedation during root canal therapy and other dental treatments.
The local anesthetic will prevent pain (although you will still feel pressure), and conscious sedation should kick your fear, anxiety and stress to the curb.
When used together, local anesthetic and conscious sedation can make a root canal procedure pain-free and stress-free.
What Does Conscious Sedation Feel Like?
Most patients report feeling more relaxed or drowsy during sedation, but the effects can vary from one person to the next. Some people may feel more relaxed than others.
You may feel:
- Like your limbs are heavy
- Tingling in your hands, arms and feet
- Like time moves more slowly
- That your reflexes are delayed
- A little euphoric
Some patients describe sedation as feeling like you’re in the state between consciousness and sleep.
In any case, you should feel more relaxed and your fears or anxiety should disappear.
Our goal is to make you feel as comfortable as possible during any procedure we perform, and conscious sedation may help achieve that goal.
If you’re considering root canal therapy and are worried about pain, call our office to discuss our sedation options. We want to make the procedure as simple and stress-free as possible for you.
Aftercare Tips Following a Root Canal
The root canal therapy itself shouldn’t be painful. But you may experience some discomfort after the treatment. The process of cleaning out the canal and pulp can irritate nearby tissues, which may cause mild pain.
Over-the-counter pain medications should alleviate the discomfort and help you get back to your daily routine. It’s normal to feel some discomfort for several days after treatment.
Typically, root canals take 1-2 appointments. If two appointments are needed, a temporary crown or filling may be placed to protect your tooth until your next appointment.
It’s important to take steps to protect this temporary filling or crown until it can be replaced with a permanent solution.
It’s normal for some of the temporary filling or crown to wear away or even break off. However, if the entire filling comes out, it’s important to call our office right away so that we can replace it.
Steps to Take to Protect Your Temporary
There are several things you can do to protect your temporary until your permanent crown comes in.
- Avoid biting on hard substances or foods (ice, pencils, etc.)
- Avoid sticky foods, particularly gum
- Try chewing only on the opposite side of your mouth
Be gentle and stick to soft foods if you can until your permanent crown is placed.
Other Aftercare Tips
Along with taking care of your temporary, it’s also important to take it easy immediately after a root canal treatment.
Also, be sure to:
- Take pain medications as necessary.
- Take antibiotics if they are prescribed for the indicated length of time, even if all signs and symptoms of infection are gone.
- Rinse with warm salt water three times per day.
- Continue brushing and flossing as normal.
Make sure that you come in to have your crown placed as soon as possible. Delaying the final restoration can lead to fracture or even the possible loss of your tooth.
When to Call Your Dentist
Remember that it’s normal to feel some discomfort after a root canal. However, it is not normal to experience significant pain. If you’re experiencing severe pain or other concerning symptoms, call our office immediately or seek medical attention.