A root canal is a major procedure, so pain after a root canal is normal. A root canal involves deep cleaning inside the canals (the inner chamber of the root) of your tooth, which can in turn irritate surrounding nerves and gums.
The pain shouldn’t last forever. In fact, a root canal is meant to help you avoid pain related to a decaying or fractured tooth. It’s normal to experience mild to moderate pain for a few days after a root canal. Any pain beyond this point may warrant additional cleaning of the canals or other procedures from your dentist.
Initial recovery period
In the past, root canals were extremely painful. This is one reason why people sometimes avoided such procedures. Dentists now have pain-relieving measures that can be used to reduce the amount of pain you experience during the procedure.
Before the process begins, your dentist will apply a local anesthetic that minimizes pain. You might still feel pressure during the cleaning, but you shouldn’t be in pain during the actual procedure.
As the local anesthetic wears off after the root canal, you might experience mild pain and sensitivity. This is related to the cleaning process. During the cleaning process, your dentist makes a small opening in the crown of the tooth and cleans out diseased pulp inside the pulp chamber of the tooth. While uncomfortable, any pain and sensitivity following a root canal should only last a few days.
Since the pain experienced after a root canal is usually mild, you’ll likely only need over-the-counter pain medications for relief. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB). You’ll want to check with your doctor before taking these medications to make sure they don’t interact with any supplements or prescriptions you already take.
You should also avoid chewing hard foods immediately following the root canal, as this can induce more pain.
When to seek help
Root canal pain should decrease over time. If you still experience pain or swelling, you should see your dentist. Most people need one to two sessions for a root canal to be successful. In severe cases, you may need more cleaning sessions. Recurring pain could be an indicator of this.
Your symptoms should ease up if you’re taking any over-the-counter pain medications. If they don’t, your doctor may recommend prescription-strength ibuprofen or narcotic pain relievers. These are only taken on a temporary basis.
Once your tooth is completely treated, your dentist may put a crown on top of it. These can be made of metal, porcelain, or gold. The idea here is to prevent future damage to an already delicate tooth. Sometimes pain is a temporary side effect as you get used to a newly placed crown.
Pain beyond a root canal should be addressed with your dentist. Beyond taking medications temporarily, there are other things you can do to manage pain from a root canal. Taking care of your teeth is a must, and you should avoid hard and crunchy foods until your pain improves. Quitting smoking can also help.
You may even consider stress-relieving activities as a method of pain management. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi are all practices that can also take your focus off of your pain.
A successful root canal can cause mild pain for a few days. This is temporary, and should go away on its own as long as you practice good oral hygiene. You should see your dentist for a follow-up if the pain lasts longer than three days.
An alternative to a root canal is a tooth extraction, in which your dentist can replace a damaged tooth with a bridge, partial denture, or implant. This can be an expensive treatment and usually requires several visits to your doctor.
If you’re a candidate for a root canal, you’ll likely experience less pain over time. According to the American Association of Endodontists, you’re six times more likely to be pain-free than someone who chooses not to have a root canal.
Tips for oral health
Good oral health practices can help alleviate pain from a recent root canal. These can also help your new crown last for many years while protecting all your other teeth. Consider the following tips:
- Don’t eat overly hard foods, especially right after a root canal treatment.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Be sure to move the toothbrush in gentle circling motions to clean your teeth without aggravating them. You’ll want to take special care around the tooth with the recent root canal.
- Floss once a day to help prevent future infections.
- Reduce the amount of sugary foods and drinks you consume.
- Schedule regular cleanings to help keep your teeth healthy and free of infection.