It’s unfortunate that root canals have a reputation for being painful, because most patients find that they’re no more uncomfortable than having a cavity filled! In fact, root canal treatment is often used to alleviate dental pain. With current dental techniques and local anesthetic to keep you comfortable, there's no reason to be anxious about getting a root canal.
How Do I Know If I Need a Root Canal?
When the pulp inside a tooth becomes infected or inflamed, root canal treatment is recommended. This pulp could be compromised from a cavity spreading from the enamel of a tooth to the pulp, or it could be the result of deep cracks, fractured teeth, dental trauma that knocks a tooth out, or cracked or broken restorations. When a patient needs a root canal, they usually have throbbing pain, sharp pains when biting down, and severe sensitivity to hot and cold sensations; they may also have an abscess near the affected tooth.
The goal of a root canal, regardless of the cause for it, is always the same: to save your natural tooth. If we extract the tooth instead, it may cause your other teeth to shift into the open space, therefore 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 due to the bone resorption caused by missing teeth. A root canal is simpler and better for your dental health.
What Happens During a Root Canal?
First, we use local anesthesia to numb your tooth and surrounding tissue. This ensures that you are comfortable while we work.
During a root canal, your dentist will open up the tooth and remove the pulp from the chamber. To prevent reinfection, the chamber is then cleaned and disinfected. A gutta-percha filling is inserted into the chamber to replace the pulp and seal the tooth. Finally, a crown or filling protects the tooth from infection and injury.
You can drive yourself home after a root canal because it requires only local anesthetic. Many patients choose to take the rest of the day off work or school following their root canal treatment, but you can resume your normal activities if you wish—just expect numbness for a few hours, followed by some discomfort and sensitivity.
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. Start with soups, yogurt, and smoothies, then add soft foods like pasta and chicken before adding back hard, chewy, or crunchy foods like tortilla chips, jerky, and nuts.