Although root canals have a reputation for being painful, most patients are surprised to learn that they are usually no more painful than having a cavity filled. There's no reason to be afraid of getting a root canal with modern dental techniques and local anesthetic to keep you comfortable. Below, we answer the question, “What is a root canal?”
Why Do I Need a Root Canal?
Root canals are needed when the pulp inside a tooth becomes infected or inflamed. This could be because a cavity has spread from the enamel of a tooth to the pulp, or it can be the result of severe cracks, teeth that have broken off, dental trauma that knocks a tooth out, and restorations that are broken or compromised. Most patients experience throbbing pain and extreme sensitivity to hot and cold when they need a root canal; sometimes, they may also have dental abscesses near the affected tooth.
Whatever the reason for your root canal, the goal 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 area, altering your bite; you'll need a bridge or dental implant to replace it, and if you wait too long, you may need bone grafts in the jaw due to bone resorption caused by missing teeth. A root canal is far simpler and better for your dental health.
What Happens During a Root Canal?
First, we numb your tooth and the surrounding tissue using local anesthetic. This ensures that you don’t feel any discomfort while we work.
Your dentist will open up the damaged tooth and remove the pulp from the center during a root canal. The chamber of the tooth is then thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to prevent reinfection. To replace the pulp and seal the tooth, a gutta-percha filling is placed in the chamber. Finally, the tooth is protected from infection and damage with a crown or filling.
Because a root canal only requires local anesthetic, you can drive yourself home following the treatment. Many patients choose to take the remainder of the day off work or school, but you can resume your normal daily activities after your appointment—just be prepared to experience numbness for a few hours, followed by some mild discomfort and sensitivity.
How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Root Canal?
A root canal treatment normally takes only a few days to recover from, though this varies depending on the complexity of the procedure. After your root canal, you may experience some tenderness and sensitivity for up to a week or two, but this is usually minor and may be managed with over-the-counter pain medications and cold compresses.
While you can eat after your root canal, it's best to stay away from hard foods and stick to a soft diet until your tooth is less sensitive. Start with soups, yogurt, and smoothies, then move on to soft meals like pasta and chicken before returning to hard, chewy, or crunchy things like chips, nuts, and jerky.