Celebrity Smiles Now Open In Hermitage, TN Learn More

Call Us Today!

(615) 259-5100


Is a Root Canal Painful?

Is a Root Canal Painful?

Is a Root Canal Painful?
Dr. Jones
February 28, 2023

What do you know about your teeth? For most people, there’s a basic knowledge that the tooth has a root and sits in the gums and jawbone.

People know you have to keep your teeth clean and see your dentist twice a year. But, the basic knowledge typically ends there, and that can make thoughts of needing a root canal incredibly stressful. Your friend said it’s the most painful experience there is.

We’re here to give you a little reassurance. When it comes to a root canal, a person’s pain tolerance differs from one individual to another. If you ask a woman about her experiences with childbirth, some will say it’s pain that’s easily forgotten while others will say it was days of misery. A root canal is similar because your tolerance to pain may not be the same as your friend’s.

The Basic Structure of Your Tooth

Your tooth is made up of the crown that sits over the gum line and the root that extends into the jawbone. The crown is covered by enamel that protects the softer dentin. Under that dentin is the pulp chamber that’s made of tissue and the blood supply. Typically, the enamel protects your dentin, but enamel diminishes as you age due to normal wear and tear, improper oral care, acidic foods, etc.

If cracks or weak enamel allow bacteria to start damaging the dentin, you develop tooth decay, aka a cavity. Typically, you’d get your cavities taken care of in the early stages to keep the decay from reaching the pulp. When tooth decay makes it through the dentin and into the pulp, it can become inflamed or infected. Left untreated, it can cause tremendous pain or an abscess.

When your tooth decay impacts the pulp, a root canal may become necessary. Some of the signs that a root canal is needed include:

  • A chipped or cracked tooth
  • Apparent damage to the pupal nerve
  • Deep decay in the tooth
  • Pain that occurs when chewing or biting down
  • Pus-filled pimples forming on the gums
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold that doesn’t stop after removing the item causing the sensitivity
  • Swollen, tender, and/or darkening gums

If you are experiencing any of those symptoms, arrange an emergency appointment with your dentist. If you haven’t been seeing a dentist lately, it’s very important to get the first available opening you can with an endodontist. You do not want an infection or abscess to spread to your bloodstream and cause health issues.

Why an endodontist? Endodontists specialize in tooth pain and infection of the tissue within your tooth. Some general dentistry practices are also trained and have the expertise to treat a badly infected tooth.

A Step-By-Step Look at a Root Canal

When you get to a dentist, x-rays of your teeth will be taken. This shows the extent of the infection and the amount of decay. Depending on the situation, you may go home with a prescription for antibiotics to clear up some infection first or have the root canal done right then and there.

  1. Anesthetics Are Administered and a Dental Dam is Placed

Before the root canal, an anesthetic is used to numb the area. You will not feel pain because of the medications that are used. Once the tooth is numb, a protective sheet known as a dental dam is placed around the tooth to keep it dry during the root canal.

The medications used in a root canal are local. You should be able to drive yourself to and from the appointment.

  1. The Dentist Drills Into the Crown and Infected Tissue Is Removed

Once this is in place, an opening is made in the crown. This opening allows the dentist to get into the pulp chamber to remove the infected pulp and clean the root canals of all infected tissue. The empty space is then ready for a material known as gutta-percha.

  1. The Empty Canal Is Filled With a Synthetic Material and a Temporary Filling Is Placed

Gutta-percha is a rubbery material that fills the entire canal to create a proper seal to prevent bacteria from getting into that channel. Once the gutta-percha is in place, a temporary filling is placed over the opening in the crown. If there isn’t enough tooth left for a crown, Your dentist may opt to place a post within the tooth for a crown to attach to at a later date.

  1. A Permanent Crown Is Attached

You will return to the dentist at a later date for a permanent crown. A mold of your tooth is taken to craft the crown that will complete your tooth to its full, natural shape. This crown adheres to the top of the tooth over the gutta-percha. Once a crown is in place, the procedure is complete.

Front teeth that aren’t used for chewing may not require a crown. Molars in the back of the mouth do need the crown for strength while biting down and chewing. Your dentist can go over your options.

Pain Is Managed Through Medications

Your tooth is numb the entire time a root canal is completed so you shouldn’t feel pain. What about when you get home?

After the medication wears off, you might feel some lingering sensitivity, but the pain won’t be anywhere near as bad as it was if you had an abscess that had to be drained. Often an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen is all that you’ll need to manage the pain.

If the pain isn’t well managed with over-the-counter medications, talk to your dentist. As everyone has their own tolerance to pain, some people may need a prescription pain reliever for a day or two, but it’s rare to have pain that severe after a root canal.

Take Care of Your Tooth

After a root canal, you shouldn’t experience pain. If you do, months or even years later, a secondary root canal may be necessary. If you take care of your teeth, it can help prevent future issues.

Eat soft foods for the first few days after a root canal. Try not to eat for several hours after the procedure. When you do eat, stick to soups, yogurt, cottage cheese, and soft cereals like oatmeal or cream of wheat.

Avoid hard foods like popcorn kernels and ice cubes, or sticky foods like taffy or caramel. These are foods you shouldn’t eat anymore to protect your teeth. Brush your tooth with a soft-bristled toothbrush head twice a day. Floss between teeth each day.

See your dentist twice a year. If you have gum disease, you may be told to come in three or four times a year instead. If it’s recommended, dental insurance usually pays for the extra visits. Make sure you follow your dentist’s guidance on how often to go.

You also want to see your dentist regularly to make sure the adhesive holding the crown in place isn’t weakening. If it is. The tooth can be cleaned and the crown reaffixed. It’s better than having it fall off unexpectedly and get lost.

Some people have severe anxiety about going to the dentist, which can make it hard for them to seek treatment. Do not put off seeing a dentist if you have a cracked or chipped tooth. If you’re experiencing pain, make an appointment today. Do not put it off as the risk of infection spreading to your bloodstream is too risky.

Jody Jones DDS specializes in dental treatments for patients with dental anxiety. Talk to us about our sedation dentistry option that helps you get through a root canal or dental exam without the fear or anxiety that’s kept you away. We’re here to ensure your comfort throughout an exam and dental procedure like a root canal.