Most patients are pleasantly surprised to learn that root canal procedure is usually no more painful than having a cavity filled. With current dental techniques and local anesthetic to keep you comfortable, there's no reason to lose sleep over an upcoming root canal. Here’s exactly what you can expect during your appointment.
Why Do I Need a Root Canal?
When the tissue, or pulp, inside a tooth becomes infected or inflamed, root canals are often needed. This could be the result of a cavity spreading from the enamel to the pulp, a crack, broken tooth, dental trauma that knocks a tooth out, or a compromised dental filling. When a patient needs a root canal, it’s common to experience throbbing pain and painful sensitivity to hot and cold sensations; a dental abscess may also develop near the affected tooth.
The goal of root canal therapy is always the same: to save your natural tooth. If we extract the tooth instead, it may allow your other teeth to shift into the open space, changing your bite; you'll need a bridge or dental implant to replace the tooth, and if you wait too long, bone grafts in the jaw may be required to address jawbone loss. A root canal is a simpler and more preservative process than extraction and replacement.
Root canal treatment for many teeth can be completed at a general dental office, however every tooth is different. Some teeth with more internal complexity, teeth below existing crowns or bridges, and teeth that have already had root canal treatment may be best treated by a specialist. Your dentist will be able to help you decide which option is right for you.
What Happens During a Root Canal?
First, we use local anesthesia to numb your tooth and the surrounding soft tissue. This ensures that you don’t feel any discomfort during your treatment.
During a root canal, your dentist will open a channel in the top of the injured tooth and remove the inflamed or infected pulp inside the crown and root spaces, or canals. To prevent re-infection, the tooth's chamber and root canals are cleaned and disinfected. A specialized filling is placed in the root canals to replace the pulp. Finally, a crown or dental filling restores and seals the exterior of the tooth and protects it from infection and injury.
You can drive yourself home after a root canal if only local anesthetic and nitrous oxide sedation, if needed, are used. Many patients choose to take the rest of the day off work or school following their treatment, but you can resume your normal daily activities after your procedure—just expect numbness for a few hours, followed by some temporary discomfort and sensitivity around the treated tooth.
How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Root Canal?
A root canal treatment usually only takes a few days to recover from, though this can vary depending on the procedure's complexity. You may experience some tenderness and sensitivity for a week or two after your root canal, but this is usually minor and may be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and cold compresses.
While you can eat following your root canal, you should avoid hard foods and stick to a soft diet until your tooth is no longer sensitive and the exterior has been protected by a crown or a permanent filling. Start with soups, yogurt, and smoothies, then soft foods like pasta and fish, before reintroducing hard, chewy, or crunchy foods like chips, nuts, and jerky.