Did you know that according to the American Association of Endodontics, patients who have experienced a root canal treatment are six times more likely to describe it as “painless” than patients who have not had a root canal? 
Many people often associate root canal treatments with pain and fear. Although this was the case in the past, the introduction of modern technology and anesthetics nowadays has made the procedure much more bearable and pain-free. However, there are still misconceptions about pain regarding root canal therapy. This article will address root canal pain before, during and after the treatment.
If untreated, your root canal pain will persist intermittently for days or weeks. The best option is to go for an endodontic/ root canal treatment to relieve the pain. If left untreated in the long term, the inflammation will progress and infection may arise and spread to the surrounding tissues.
Pain Before Root Canal Treatment
If you are experiencing a severe toothache that is disrupting your daily routine, the problem may lie in your tooth’s inner tissues, which consists of the pulp and root canals. These pulp tissue contain all the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues in our teeth. When experiencing such pain, you are highly encouraged to visit your local dentist to get their advice, diagnosis and treatment plan.
Your dentist will ask you some questions to gather more information, examine your mouth and jaw area and perform a series of tests on your tooth. A dental radiograph (X-ray) will also be taken to confirm the diagnosis.
If your dentist has diagnosed you with irreversible pulpitis, treatment to remove the diseased pulp will be necessary. Irreversible pulpitis is the inflammation of pulp tissue to the point where the vital pulp is incapable of healing. To treat this, a root canal treatment or tooth extraction is indicated to remove the diseased pulp. This condition can stem from existing tooth decay, trauma or previous deep restorations.
When possible, it is advisable to opt for a root canal treatment rather than extractions. This option retains your existing tooth, giving it a better look, feel and function in your mouth. According to a study, the high success rate of 86% to 98%  supports the benefits of root canal therapy to extraction.
What are the symptoms of an infected root canal?
Different people tend to experience different symptoms from an inflamed or infected root canal. Some common examples are listed below:
- intermittent or continuous dull pain
- pain at night or with postural changes
- referred pain (headaches and jaw pain)
- diffused pain (cannot pinpoint the exact location of the pain)
- pain on heat and cold food and drinks
- pain on biting
Pain During Root Canal Treatment
Root canal treatment involves cleaning of the canals to remove bacteria. The main objectives of root canal treatment are disinfection and preventing reinfection. This treatment can be performed by general dentists or specialists known as endodontists.
It consists of 2 appointments or more, where an access is opened to remove the diseased pulp from the affected tooth with small files. The canals will then be cleaned thoroughly and medicament will be placed before closing it up. In the next appointment, your dentist will place biocompatible material into the root canal and seal the opening with a filling, and subsequently followed by a dental crown if required.
Is root canal very painful?
Local anesthesia will be administered to numb the tooth and area before your treatment. You will feel some pressure on your treated tooth and little to no pain during the procedure. The sensation can be compared to getting a tooth filling done.
Pain After Root Canal Treatment
As root canal therapy is an invasive procedure, it can irritate the tooth’s surrounding tissues such as the gums. However, this is only temporary and will last up to 3 or 4 days. It is important to note that root canal procedures are meant to help and alleviate the pain from irreversible pulpitis.
What is the pain like after a root canal?
There may be some sensitivity or tenderness around the tooth after the local anesthesia effect wears off. This discomfort will persist for a few days. However, this can be alleviated by taking pain relieving medications and painkillers. The pain experienced shouldn’t be unbearable and disrupt your daily routine.
It is advisable to avoid eating hard food and maintain a good oral hygiene after your treatment. This can help to manage the discomfort.
Can a tooth still hurt after a root canal?
If the pain becomes worse or persists for longer than advised, do contact your dentist and schedule a review as soon as possible. Your dentist will examine your treated tooth again for other causes. Infection, cracks and fractures of teeth can also cause severe pain so it is important to rule them out for healing.
Failure of endodontic treatment can result in an infection. If an infection occurs, retreatment of the root canals may be necessary. Your dentist will be required to repeat the procedure again. If this does not work, the tooth will have to be extracted and replaced with a tooth implant, bridge or denture.
Don’t delay or postpone making an appointment as the longer you wait, the chance of saving the tooth decreases. The problem may even spread and infect the structures and tissues below the tooth.
If you have experienced the symptoms listed above, please contact your dentist as soon as possible for a consultation. The dentist or endodontist will share their advice, diagnosis or treatment plans with you. At Ocean Dental, we have dental X-ray machines for panoramic X-ray (OPG), Periapical X-ray (PA) and CBCT (for 3D scans) to aid in examination.
For more complex cases such as molar teeth root canal treatment, we may refer you to external specialist clinics where endodontist work with special equipment such as microscope with up to x25 magnification!
Schedule an appointment or check out our services for root canal treatments!
- Tooth Saving Tips [Internet]. Aae.org. 2013 [cited 14 September 2021]. Available from: https://www.aae.org/specialty/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/06/toothsavingtips.pdf
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- Hargreaves, Kenneth M, and Louis H. Berman. Cohen’s Pathways of the Pulp. , 2016. Print.