Knowing What to Expect Can Help You Prepare for a Root Canal Procedure

Do you feel intimidated when you hear the words, “root canal”? Despite its important role in dentistry, root canal treatment often receives a bad reputation. It’s easy to associate the pain of a damaged tooth root with the treatment itself. But the reality is not as unpleasant as you might imagine. The use of local anesthesia ensures a painless procedure, and root canal recovery time can be expected to take only a few days.

When Is Root Canal Treatment Necessary?

The purpose of a root canal is to repair a tooth that has been damaged from tooth decay, infection, or fracture. Preliminary treatment involves removing the decay or infection if these are present. The endodontist must then determine whether the lost tooth structure can be restored. When gum disease or a tooth fracture reaches the pulp, saving the tooth may become difficult or even impossible.

During a root canal procedure, the inner chamber of the tooth is cleaned and shaped. The pulp and nerves lie within this inner chamber. A tooth’s nerve is not necessary for its health and functioning, which means that it is safe to remove for therapeutic purposes. The absence of a nerve will not affect the day-to-day functioning of a tooth. Without endodontic treatment, the tissue surrounding the diseased tooth may become infected and abscesses may develop. Therefore, it is very important to move forward with the procedure while it is still possible to save the tooth.

What Does a Root Canal Involve?

Patients who don’t understand what the root canal procedure entails tend to be more nervous when it is time to visit the endodontist. Understanding how this treatment works and knowing what to expect should alleviate these unnecessary fears. Root canal treatment truly does relieve pain, not cause it. Furthermore, state-of-the-art technology such as digital imaging, ultrasonic instrumentation, and operating microscopes allow endodontists to perform their work with a high degree of precision. The following step-by-step explanation is offered to give patients an informed understanding of what their procedure will involve.

Step 1

The procedure will begin with the administration of local anesthesia to numb the tooth and adjacent tissues. A tooth with significant inflammation may take time to numb, but the endodontist will not start the procedure until it is ready.

Step 2

root canal recovery timeA dental dam will be positioned over the affected and nearby teeth. Made of a thin sheet of rubber or vinyl, a dental dam is used to isolate the tooth receiving treatment from the rest of the mouth. The affected tooth will protrude through a hole in the dam, allowing treatment to be carried out in a sterile environment free from bacteria.

Step 3

A tiny access hole will be drilled into the affected tooth, which will be the point of entry for all treatment. Through this hole, the endodontist will be able to treat the infected pulp chamber.

Step 4

The endodontist will utilize specially designed instruments to remove the damaged material from the root canals. This process is not painful, as the area will be fully numbed by this point. Once the pulp and nerves are removed from the pulp chamber, the tooth will no longer be able to feel pain.

Step 5

The canals are disinfected using antiseptic and antibacterial solutions, such as sodium hypochlorite.

Step 6

The canals will be shaped with tiny instruments and then cleaned out again to remove any debris.

Step 7

Root canal fillings are chosen for the freshly prepared canals. A rubber-like material, gutta-percha, is typically used to fill the space inside the canals. It is thermoplastic, which means that it can be molded by applying heat. The gutta-percha will be heated and compressed into the walls of the canals to fill them. Together with a sealer, the gutta-percha ensures that the canal space will be fully sealed off in order to prevent reinfection.

Step 8

A temporary sealing is placed to seal the access hole. If the tooth structure is particularly fragile, the endodontist may place a post inside the canal to support it.  

Step 9

An antibiotic may be prescribed to treat infection following the procedure. Follow the instructions of your dentist or endodontist carefully, taking the full course of antibiotics prescribed. Root canal recovery time should not take long. While you may experience minor discomfort after the procedure, you should not feel acute pain. Slight soreness can usually be managed with over-the-counter medication. If you experience significant pain after your treatment, contact your endodontist.

Step 10

The treated tooth will need a permanent restoration to cover the lost tooth structure and seal the top of the tooth. This step is particularly important and should not be neglected, no matter how normal your tooth feels after the procedure. Many studies show that placement of a crown after a root canal is the best way to protect yourself from reinfection.  

Root Canal Recovery Time: What to Expect

The tooth may feel sensitive for the first few days after a root canal treatment, especially if it was infected prior to the procedure. This discomfort can usually be managed with over-the-counter painkillers and in certain circumstances, the dentist can prescribe stronger medications. However, most patients will return to their normal activities the day after treatment.

Until you receive your permanent filling, it is wise to minimize chewing on the tooth being treated. This will help to avoid re-contaminating or breaking a fragile tooth before it has been fully restored. Remember to continue to brush and floss each day to keep the area clean.

While the treated tooth may feel different from your other teeth for some time after the procedure, you should contact your endodontist right away if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Visible swelling inside the mouth
  • Allergic reaction to the medication (hives, itching)
  • Acute or severe pain lasting for several days
  • Symptoms prior to your root canal treatment come back

Root Canal Treatment at Penn Dental Medicine

If you have been referred for endodontic treatment or suspect that you may need the procedure, we encourage you to schedule an appointment at Penn Dental Medicine (PDM) as soon as possible. At PDM, you will be treated by student dentists in the final stage of their training at the reputed University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. All treatments are overseen by our faculty dentists, giving patients the chance to benefit from a high level of expertise while receiving discounted prices on treatment. To learn more, please call us at 215-898-8965 today.