For many years, comedians have regularly used the term “root canal” to capture any painful experience. The jokes weren’t funny to anyone who actually needed a root canal – fear of pain was sometimes enough to keep them from getting badly needed care.
Today’s root canals, though, have advanced dramatically in terms of technique and technology from 20 or even 10 years ago. In many cases, a root canal now relieves dental pain, instead of intensifying it.
Your endodontist is trained in pain management for root canals and other procedures that involve the roots and nerve pulp of your teeth. The amount of discomfort you experience during and after a root canal will vary with your individual circumstances, but here are some of the most common factors that can impact your pain level.
What Factors Influence Root Canal Pain?
- The amount of infection in or damage to the tooth prior to the procedure. Root canals are performed on teeth with infected, inflamed, or damaged tooth pulp. One common symptom of tooth pulp damage is persistent tooth pain. If your tooth is badly infected before your root canal, it can also be more sensitive afterward.
- How you use pain relievers after your root canal. Some tenderness and sensitivity is expected after the procedure. Your endodontist can provide guidance on when to take over-the-counter pain relievers and what kind of dosing schedule to maintain until the pain is no longer a distraction.
- How closely you listen to and follow post-procedure instructions from your endodontist. After your root canal, you will want to avoid chewing with the affected tooth until it has received a permanent dental restoration (typically a crown). You will also want to choose soft, cool foods like applesauce or yogurt to eat for the first few days. Hard, hot, or crunchy foods increase the likelihood you will feel sensitivity or pain when you eat.
- How quickly you report any severe post-procedure pain. It’s imperative you call your endodontist right away if you experience sharp or severe pain after your root canal; this can indicate that infection has returned. You will need to be seen to assess the situation, and your endodontist can plan additional pain and infection management steps.
“Today’s root canals rarely involve severe pain,” says Dr. Susan L. Wood, who practices at the Phoenix Endodontic Group. “Your endodontist is your partner in managing discomfort after a root canal and is the first person you should call if that pain becomes severe.”