Root Canal Pain: What to Expect & When to Get Further Help

The pain of an infected tooth can be unbearable, but does the procedure to fix it hurt even more? Learn what to expect at your next root canal.

September 29, 2022
Root Canal Pain: What to Expect & When to Get Further Help

Your teeth are the only bones that you can see from the outside of your body. At least, we hope that’s the case. So taking extra good care of them is essential for both your cosmetic wellbeing, as well as your holistic health.

Sometimes, cavities and tooth decay can wear away the outer layer of protective enamel on your teeth. This needs to be rectified in order to protect the inner portions of your tooth that are more sensitive and susceptible to pain.

If decay becomes too severe, it might be time for a root canal. You may have heard that these procedures are painful or uncomfortable, but you shouldn’t let that deter you from getting the medical treatment you need. 

Here’s everything you need to know about root canal pain, including what can be done to get further help if the pain is just too much to bear.

What is a Root Canal?

There’s no need to be worried about getting a root canal treatment. In fact, millions of people get this treatment every year, and it can really help alleviate pain and discomfort. But what does the procedure look like?

First, it helps to know a little about the anatomy of a tooth. The tooth is covered with a layer of white enamel. Inside the tooth, there is a layer called dentin, and then even further under that, there is some soft tissue called the pulp.

A tooth's pulp contains blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves. Because of that, if you have damage to the outer layers and start to get infections of the pulp, you can experience an intense amount of pain.

While the pulp is essential for a tooth’s growth and development, a mature tooth can survive without it. For that reason, a root canal procedure can be done to extract the pulp, remove infections, and alleviate pain.

The Procedure

A root canal procedure is a common endodontic technique that you shouldn’t be embarrassed or scared to undergo. Here is a little bit of what you can expect from your surgery.

First, the endodontist will examine the tooth with x-rays or other observational methods. Once it comes time for the procedure itself, the endodontist administers a local anesthetic to numb the tooth. Then, a protective cover is placed over the area to isolate the tooth. This is known as a dental dam.

Then, the dental professional makes an opening in the crown, or top, of the tooth. Small instruments are used to extract the pulp from the pulp chamber and canals of the root.

Once the space is cleared and cleaned, the endodontist fills the gap with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. This seals the canal, and a temporary filling is placed to close the opening.

Does a Root Canal Hurt?

Root canals involve digging a hole into your tooth and removing the pulp. It sounds pretty painful, but rest assured, knowing that the procedure is usually painless.

This is thanks to the local anesthetic used to numb the tooth and surrounding areas. You should feel no pain or discomfort during the procedure, though you might feel a little bit of pulling or tugging while the endodontist is scraping out the pulp.

For most people, the sounds of a root canal are scarier than the feeling. If the noises of scraping or drilling are uncomfortable for you, talk to your doctor about possibly being able to wear earplugs, or ask them to play some music in the background to make your experience more comfortable.

Also, many people report feeling some mild pain or discomfort for a few days after the treatment. This shouldn’t last longer than a week. However, if it does, you should contact a healthcare provider.

Signs of a Failed Root Canal

While root canal procedures are effective and common, there is still some room for them to fail. A failed root canal occurs when the treatment does not remove all of the infection or the tooth becomes infected again.

There are a few ways to know if a root canal has gone wrong. Here are a few symptoms:

  • Pain in the treated tooth.
  • Sensitivity or pain when biting down.
  • Pimple or boil on the jaw.
  • Tooth discoloration.
  • Tenderness in the gum tissue where the treatment was performed.
  • Facial or neck swelling.
  • Presence of pus-filled abscesses near the treated tooth.
  • Swelling or tenderness near the affected tooth.

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek further medical assistance.

An endodontist can confirm a root canal failure through an x-ray. A failed root canal will not get any better without treatment, so you should contact your healthcare provider for the next steps if you have any doubts.

This is essential because not treating an infected root canal can lead to a potentially deadly and extreme response to an infection known as sepsis

Sepsis occurs when an infection triggers a flood of chemicals released in the bloodstream, triggering inflammation throughout the body. This can cause disruptions to organ systems and even organ failure, resulting in death.

How to Manage Root Canal Pain

After a root canal, you may feel a little bit of pain or discomfort in the tooth that was affected. This is entirely normal and should go away within just a week. However, if it becomes a little too much to bear, there are some things you can do to manage it.

Pain Relief Medications

Your endodontist will likely prescribe some extra-strength pain relievers for the first day or two after your procedure to help with any pain at the time. But if you continue to feel some discomfort after the fact, you can use over-the-counter medications like Tylenol to bring some instant relief.

You can also use pain relievers to help with tooth pain before you’re able to get a tooth canal procedure completed. However, don’t use it in place of actually seeking medical attention. If you feel pain, you should use pain relief medications to ease the discomfort until you can see a medical professional.

Avoid Cold or Hot Beverages

Your affected teeth are likely to be extremely sensitive up until you’re able to get your root canal surgery because the nerves are exposed to anything it comes in contact with. For that reason, you want to avoid cold and hot beverages, as these will increase tooth sensitivity and cause some nasty pain.

With that said, applying a cold compress to the outside of your mouth can help reduce swelling and inflammation, which might ease the pain.

You should avoid hot foods and beverages immediately after your root canal procedure as well. This is because your mouth will be numb, so if you drink hot liquids, you increase the chances of burning your mouth without even realizing it.

After a root canal, you can eat soft foods that don’t require chewing, like yogurt, bananas, and hummus.

Avoid Foods High in Acid

Foods with acidic properties can have the same effect as hot foods or cold foods. As much as you might love some of the foods on this list, you’ll want to try to avoid them to reduce some of the pain until you’re able to get a root canal.

Try to cut back on the following:

  • Fruit juice
  • Coffee
  • Candy
  • Ice cream
  • Sodas
  • Citrus fruits, like lemons and oranges

Keep Brushing and Flossing

If you have tooth decay that requires a tooth canal, you likely feel a lot of pain and sensitivity from brushing or flossing. We know it hurts, but you shouldn’t stop completing these essential tasks.

Brushing removes bacteria and can lessen the amount of plaque in your mouth. Believe it or not, this can help with the pain.

How to Get Affordable Root Canals

The pain of an infected or decaying tooth is nothing less than uncomfortable and inundating. But medical procedures don’t come cheap, especially when you’re uninsured. 

Considering that regional percentages of dental insured adults in the United States range from only 45.6% to 57.1%, there’s a clear need for a solution to alleviate some of the discomforts.

That’s where Flossy can save the day. We’re for patients without dental insurance. With your free membership, you’ll be able to see top-rated dentists in your area for up to 50% off the typical out-of-pocket costs. That means you can get a root canal treatment for just $690 – that’s half as much as the average $1,366 price tag.

While that might sound too good to be true, our dentists are vetted based on rigorous criteria, experience and knowledge, graduate degrees from accredited dental programs, and utilization of modern technology and techniques. Find a dentist near you to get an affordable root canal today.

Conclusion

Root canals seem like intense and scary procedures, but they are extremely common. And because of that, dentists have nailed the technique to ensure a quick, painless, and comfortable experience that will only serve to alleviate your pain down the road.

You might notice you need a root canal if you feel some sharp, intense pain in one of your teeth. This is due to the infected pulp, which the procedure serves to remove. Since you’re numbed during the surgery, you are very unlikely to feel any pain whatsoever.

However, you may feel some tenderness, inflammation, or mild discomfort. If this lasts for more than a week or feels too intense, it might be a failed root canal. You should speak with your endodontist for the next steps.

But the ultimate takeaway is that root canals themselves do not hurt. In fact, you’ll feel so much better after getting one done. So don’t let a price tag get in the way of a healthier smile. Flossy can help you afford your necessary dental treatments, even without insurance.

Sources:

Root Canal Explained | American Association of Endodontists

What is sepsis? | CDC.

Root Canal: What Is It, Diagnosis, Treatment, Side Effects & Recovery | Cleveland Clinic.