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Recovery After a Root Canal

Creative Commons image by f%h*Lofter.
Creative Commons image by f%h*Lofter.

If you’re scheduled for a root canal, also called endodontic therapy, you might be nervous about the procedure. The good news is that with advances in modern dentistry, root canal therapy is just about as painless as it gets. You’ll be completely numb, and if you do feel a twinge of pain, anesthetic dripped right onto the nerve will eliminate it quickly. Most patients are pleased to find out that their root canal is about the same to them as getting a filling, though it does take longer. What you might not be prepared for, however, is that you will likely have some soreness following the procedure. Here’s what you can expect when it comes to recovery after a root canal.

When you have root canal therapy, you will need to keep your mouth open for what feels like a long time. You will likely be in one position, with a few breaks, for an hour or maybe even more. Using a bite block (a piece of rubber that props your jaw open and allows sore muscles to rest) can give some relief, but many patients don’t like having another appliance in their mouths.

After your root canal, you may find that your jaw is achy from having to hold it open for so long. Warm compresses, opening and closing your jaw, and simply resting the joints will help. Avoid eating anything hard or chewy for a couple of days to let your muscles and joints relax. You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminiphen.

Soreness in the Tendons

When you have a root canal, your dentist uses small files to remove all of the nerve tissue. Although it’s painless during the procedure, the files can irritate the tendons, ligaments and other tissues located at the end of your root. Once the novocaine wears off, this can feel sore.

The cure here is similar to that for joint pain. Avoid chewing much on that tooth, and apply either heat or ice, whatever makes it feel better. The OTC pain relievers should help with this, too.

Tooth Pain

You should not have much tooth pain after a root canal. If your tooth is sore, it might be coming from a high temporary filling. If you bring your teeth together slowly and the recently treated tooth hits first, you may need a bite adjustment to help take pressure off of the area. This is a painless procedure that takes just a few minutes, and it can improve your comfort level almost immediately.

Occasionally, a tooth with a root canal begins to hurt because there is an infection festering at the end of the root. Most of the time, your dentist will be able to detect this while performing the procedure and will place a medicated filling to treat the infection. In a few cases, however, it’s not detectable. If you are having severe pain, swelling or develop a fever or other symptoms of an infection, call your dentist right away. The tooth might need to be reopened to allow the infection to drain, or you might need antibiotics.

Most of the time, a root canal goes off without a hitch and patients can return to their regular activities the same day or the next day. Talk to your dentist about what to expect after your root canal, and call if something does not feel right.