When you have an oral cavity on your tooth, the initial days are not hard to get by. However, with time, the cavities grow into dental decay, which becomes a problem that needs to be addressed. Many people downplay the consequences of tooth decay until they are faced with the reality of having to lose their teeth. It doesn’t have to get to that. A root canal is a major procedure, so pain after a root canal is normal. A root canal involves deep cleaning inside the inner root of your tooth, which can in turn irritate surrounding nerves and gums.
When root canal treatment is needed?
Root canal treatment is only required when dental X-rays show that the pulp has been damaged by a bacterial infection.
The pulp will begin to die if it’s infected by bacteria, allowing the bacteria to then multiply and spread.
The symptoms of a pulp infection include:
- pain when eating or drinking hot or cold food and drink
- pain when biting or chewing
- a loose tooth
As the infection progresses, these symptoms often disappear as the pulp dies.
Your tooth then appears to have healed, but the infection has in fact spread through the root canal system.
You eventually get further symptoms such as:
- pain when biting or chewing returning
- swelling of the gum near the affected tooth
- pus oozing from the affected tooth
- facial swelling
- the tooth becoming a darker color
It’s important to see your dentist if you develop toothache. If your tooth is infected, the pulp cannot heal by itself.
Leaving the infected tooth in your mouth may make it worse.
There may also be less chance of the root canal treatment working if the infection within your tooth becomes established. Antibiotics, a medicine to treat bacterial infections, are not effective in treating root canal infections.
The Procedure of Root Canal
An infected tooth does not take too long before other complications begin to erupt in the mouth. This is why your dentist will appreciate going for treatment early, instead of waiting until too much damage has been incurred. Some of the things you should expect during a root canal process include:
- Sedation – first off, local anesthesia is necessary to numb your mouth for the procedure. Since you may already be in pain as a result of the toothache, the anesthesia is necessary. After that, an endodontist, a dental expert who handles root canal procedures, may sedate you for relaxation and calmness.
- Drilling – at Arizona Family Dentistry, we use special tools to make a hole in the enamel of the tooth. This hole serves as the access point to the inside parts of your tooth.
- Cleaning – the insides of your tooth are cleaned out. This process does not only remove the infection and bacteria from your tooth. The pulp chamber, which houses nerves and blood vessels, is also removed. Your tooth should be able to survive without the pulp since it is fully matured.
- Filling – the hole is sealed to prevent re-entry of bacteria. Usually, a dental filling will do the trick. Sometimes, however, a crown can be placed over the tooth to hold everything in place.
Root Canal Treatment Aftercare
Although root canals are common procedures, you can still expect to experience some discomfort, pain, and fatigue after the procedure. It is still a type of surgery, and your body will need time to heal.
Treating pain after root canal treatment
Root canal treatment is quick, simple, and comes with an easy recovery. You will experience a little pain and discomfort in the days following it. You can manage this pain at home with some common post-dental procedure recommendations.
Here are steps you can take to treat pain after a root canal and encourage the healing process:
Take Prescribed Medications
Your dentist may prescribe a few days of painkillers and antibiotics after your root canal, especially if the reason for the procedure was underlying infection. Take these medications as prescribed, and finish the course of antibiotics regardless of whether you feel better or not.
Try Over-The-Counter Pain Medications
If your dentist does not prescribe pain medication, they will likely recommend some over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. They will tell you specific doses to take. Ask about any potential interactions with other medications you are prescribed.
Continue your oral hygiene routine
Your dentist will also give you instructions on returning to your regular oral hygiene routine. You can gently brush and floss around the area, but be careful not to irritate sensitive tissues. You may need to avoid alcohol-based mouthwashes for a few days as the tissues heal.
Use Ice Packs
In the first 24 to 48 hours, you may have swelling and pain in your jaws because your mouth was open for a long time while undergoing the root canal. Apply an ice pack, wrapped in a towel, to reduce tissue inflammation and pain.
Rinse your mouth with saltwater
Pain and discomfort from many dental procedures can be eased with a warm saltwater rinse. Saline rinses reduce the chances of infection and inflammation, and warm water can make your mouth feel soothed overall. Be sure the water is not hot, as this can irritate gum tissue and make pain worse later.
Avoid spicy, oily, crunchy, and sugary foods for at least 24 to 48 hours, as these could trigger inflammation in the root canal area. Eat softer foots that are high in vitamin A and C. Eggs, cooked carrots, and sweet potatoes are great options for the first few days to a week after the surgery. Smoothies also work well, but avoid ingredients with too much sugar.
Avoid Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
At least for a few days, as pain and swelling subside, stop smoking and drinking alcohol. These intoxicants can interact with prescription medications, and they can make the gum tissue more painful.
Avoid exerting yourself for a few days, until the pain subsides. If you regularly jog or practice yoga, take a break from your regime for a few days. Anything that shakes your head and jaw or forces blood to rush to the area will cause more pain and discomfort in the long run.
After a couple days, you can begin to engage in gentle exercise. After a week, you can return to your normal exercise regime.
Avoid Chewing in the Area
For the first two or three days, chew on the opposite side of your mouth from the root canal. This helps to keep food from getting lodged in the area. It also reduces pressure on these sensitive tissues while they heal.
Eat Soft Foods
Be sure to avoid sticky, hard, or crunchy foods for some time, at least on the side of your mouth with the root canal, until the filling is covered with a crown.
Covering the tooth with a crown is the final step after getting a root canal procedure. If you damage the underlying filling, you may need to undergo another operation or even lose the tooth altogether.
Keep Your Head Elevated
Prop your head up at night while you sleep, at least for the first two or three days, to prevent blood from rushing to your head at night. This reduces the likelihood of swelling so you will wake up in less pain.
Tips for oral health
Good oral health practices can help alleviate pain from a recent root canal. These can also help your new crown last for many years while protecting all your other teeth. Consider the following tips:
- Don’t eat overly hard foods, especially right after a root canal treatment.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Be sure to move the toothbrush in gentle circling motions to clean your teeth without aggravating them. You’ll want to take special care around the tooth with the recent root canal.
- Floss once a day to help prevent future infections.
- Reduce the amount of sugary foods and drinks you consume.
- Schedule regular cleanings to help keep your teeth healthy and free of infection.
When to seek help
Root canal pain should decrease over time. If you still experience pain or swelling, you should see your dentist. Most people need one to two sessions for a root canal to be successful. In severe cases, you may need more cleaning sessions. Recurring pain could be an indicator of this.
Your symptoms should ease up if you’re taking any over-the-counter pain medications. If they don’t, your doctor may recommend prescription-strength ibuprofen or narcotic pain relievers. These are only taken on a temporary basis.
Once your tooth is completely treated, your dentist may put a crown on top of it. These can be made of metal, porcelain, or gold. The idea here is to prevent future damage to an already delicate tooth. Sometimes pain is a temporary side effect as you get used to a newly placed crown.
Can Complications Occur?
As with any dental procedure, occasional complications may occur after a root canal. These include infections, the pulp not being entirely removed, or the tooth cracking if you neglect to follow proper aftercare procedures.
How long should I wait to eat after root canal?
Most dentists will recommend waiting to eat until your teeth and gums no longer feel numb after the root canal. This usually lasts a few hours. It’s important not to eat immediately after a root canal because your gums, and sometimes your tongue, are somewhat numb.
Why does my tooth still hurt after a root canal?
One of the most common causes of post-root canal tooth pain is inflammation, which can be caused by the procedure. Usually the pain will subside and resolve itself in the following days after root canal treatment.
Is a failed root canal an emergency?
A failed root canal is one of the common dental problems that require an emergency root canal.