What Can You Expect From A Root Canal Procedure
First, what actually is a “root canal”? Root canal is the common term used to describe a major dental procedure to preserve a decayed or infected tooth that is otherwise lost. In general, the treatment is about removing and cleaning the infected or infection-prone contents within the tooth and/or its roots.
Since the root canal procedure involves a deep, thorough cleaning inside the canal—the deep parts of the root—, this can irritate surrounding gums and even nerves. So, it’s not only normal to experience mild to moderate pain for a few days, but expected.
How Long Will I Experience Pain?
Here’s the good news, various advancements of medical and dental technologies have allowed the root canal procedure to be significantly safer and at the same time, not as painful.
Usually, before the procedure the dentist will apply a local anesthetic. Again, in the past oral anesthetic can be very painful, but newer tools to administer the anesthetic has significantly toned it down. So, during the process itself, you shouldn’t experience pain, just a little bit of pressure.
It’s after the anesthetic wears off that you might experience mild pain, but it’s usually manageable. This pain usually linger for just 1-3 days, although you might still feel it for 1 to 2 weeks.
If the pain is unmanageable, or lasted more than 2 weeks, contact your dentist and schedule a follow-up examination.
Tips For Root Canal Recovery
There are two main concerns here: how to speed-up the recovery, and how to make the pain more manageable. These tips below will help with these concerns:
1. Don’t eat right away after the procedure
The root canal procedure usually lasts for around 1 hour (for 1 tooth), and around 90 minutes for molar teeth. Of course, this will depend on the complexity of the cases.
Most dentists will advise you against eating anything after the procedure for another hour, after the numbness goes away, especially cold and hot foods/beverages. Doing so might further damage the area and lengthen the recovery period.
So, it is wise to take your meal before the procedure, and intake enough water. Also, sensitivity to hot and cold food/beverages can be expected, so you might want to avoid these during the recovery period.
2. Keep your head elevated
Due to the pain and numbness, you might be tempted to lie down straight after the procedure, probably taking a quick nap. However, keeping your head elevated will help lessen the pain, as well as help with the swelling.
If you absolutely need to lie down, add another pillow so your head is a little elevated. Do this at least for the first few days until the swelling subsided.
3. Taking pain medication
As mentioned, after the anesthetic from the procedure wears off, you will feel mild to moderate discomfort in your gums, teeth, and jaws. Usually your dentist will prescribe pain medication to make this more manageable.
If not, over-the-counter pain medication and anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help significantly. You might want to check with your dentist and/or doctor before taking these medications, especially if you are currently taking other medications and supplements.
4. Avoid risky foods and beverages
During at least the first few days (and preferably until you completely recover), avoid hot beverages, tobacco (smoking or otherwise), alcohol, overly hard foods, lollipops and other similar foods that require sucking, and in general avoid drinking from straws.
These foods and drinks can risk inflame the gums, worsens the pain and can cause swelling. In short, avoid these if you want a speedy recovery.
5. Cold compress
To help with inflammation, you can use a cold compress for 10-15 minutes a day (or more), a few times a day during the recovery period. This can also help reduce swelling and can also help manage the pain.
Depending on your dentist, this process can be substituted with eating ice cream, so that the cold can produce similar effects.
6. Relax and avoid heavy activity
Avoid strenuous physical activity for at least a couple of days after the procedure. This will include playing sports, heavy lifting at the gym, running, swimming, and other similar activities. So, if your job involves heavy labor, you might want to take a couple days off.
Heavy physical activities can worsen the inflammation and swelling, so it is wise to relax for a few days to hasten your recovery.
7. Warm salt water
Gargling warm salt water can help with two things: first, it will help clean the gum, avoiding further inflammation and infection. Second, it can help manage the pain.
An infection can significantly cause more pain and might render the root canal process useless. So, washing your mouth with a glass of slightly salty water is advised. Do this as many times as you are comfortable during the recovery period.
Some types of mouthwash that includes anti-inflammatory medication can also be used here. Consult your dentist for this option.
When To Call Your Dentist
In most cases, the pain will decrease over time after two or three days, but slight pain and swelling for up to two weeks are considered normal. Also, depending on your case, you might need another root canal session for a successful procedure.
If the pain is unmanageable during the first few days of the recovery period, you might want to call your dentist to prescribe a stronger pain medication (usually stronger ibuprofen or narcotic-based relievers). This should be taken with extreme care, so consult your dentist and/or doctor.
For recurring pain after two weeks, you might need more cleaning session or there can be complications, so it’s time to seek further help from the dentist.
In general, root canal procedures nowadays are relatively manageable and might only require less than a week of recovery period. Make sure to follow a healthy diet during the recovery period, take sufficient pain medications, and don’t be afraid to contact your dentist when necessary.