Pain After a Root Canal Procedure: Causes and Relieving Tips

Are you enduring the agony of a persistent toothache, contemplating whether it’s worth facing the dentist’s chair? Ignoring the pain will only escalate the problem, potentially leading to more extensive treatments or even tooth loss. Fortunately, there is a solution that can alleviate your pain, address the root cause, and save your tooth – a root canal procedure.

If you’re experiencing tooth pain due to infection or deep decay, a root canal treatment can help remove the infection and preserve your natural tooth. Although temporary discomfort is a common concern associated with root canals, it can be managed with appropriate pain medication. The alternative of not getting treatment poses the risk of tooth loss and the spread of decay and infection to neighbouring teeth.

In this comprehensive guide, we will address your concerns and provide valuable insights about everything you need to know before and after a root canal procedure. From understanding the causes of post-root canal pain to making your root canal recovery comfortable, we’ll equip you with the knowledge to navigate your way towards a pain-free and healthy smile.

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal procedure helps treat a tooth with infected or diseased pulp, the soft tissue at the centre of the tooth containing nerves and blood. A root canal is needed when the tooth pulp becomes infected due to deep decay, damage such as a crack extending to the root or dental trauma from an accident. An infection could cause the nerve inside the tooth to die,  leaving only two ways to treat it – a tooth extraction to remove the entire tooth, which leaves a space or a root canal treatment to clean the infection and save part of the original tooth structure. If left untreated, it can lead to severe pain, abscess formation, and eventually, the loss of the tooth.

Symptoms of a Root Canal Infection

Symptoms of a root canal infection, also known as pulpitis or pulp infection, can vary from person to person. Here are some common signs that may indicate the need for a root canal:

  • Persistent, intense toothache is often a primary symptom of an infected tooth. The pain may be throbbing or shooting and can worsen when you bite down or apply pressure to the tooth.
  • You may experience heightened sensitivity to hot or cold substances. Drinking hot or cold beverages, or eating hot or cold foods, can cause sharp, lingering pain.
  • The area around the infected tooth may become swollen and tender, with red, inflamed gums that might feel sensitive to touch.
  • A dental abscess is a pocket of pus that develops at the root of the infected tooth. It can cause pain, swelling, and a pimple-like bump on the gum near the affected tooth.
  • The infected tooth may darken or become discoloured compared to the surrounding teeth. This can occur because of the changes in the blood supply and can be a sign of pulpitis, an inflammation in the pulp.
  • Bacterial infection in the pulp can lead to chronic bad breath or a foul taste in the mouth, even after maintaining proper oral hygiene.

However, not all cases of pulp infection exhibit noticeable symptoms. Some people may experience mild discomfort or no pain at all. Regular dental check-ups are essential for detecting and diagnosing root canal infections, especially in cases where symptoms are not apparent.

At Whitehorse Dental, we aim to help our patients understand the importance of preventive care by maintaining consistent and proper oral hygiene with daily brushing, cleaning between the teeth with interdental brushes and routine dental checkups. There is no substitute for your original teeth as they can combat most oral issues, adjusting according to the mouth’s environment with oral care customised to your needs.

Step by Step Root Canal Treatment Processes

A root canal treatment may generally take one to three visits to complete. Teeth with simple anatomy will take 1 visit whereas teeth with more complex anatomy may take two to three appointments. The procedure generally involves the following steps:

Step 1: Removing the old filling

The root canal treatment begins with the administration of anaesthesia to numb the area around the affected tooth to ensure comfort and minimal pain throughout the procedure. The old filling material is removed, and a rubber dam is placed to isolate the area. A rubber dam is a rubber raincoat which isolates the tooth so that no blood or saliva can contaminate the surrounding area during the procedure. This is crucial to the outcome because the purpose of a root canal is to clean the infection and sterilise the affected tooth. If new blood or saliva goes inside the tooth, the root canal will not be effective. This cleans the area as much as possible, keeping the operating site separate from the contaminants.

Step 2: Accessing & cleaning the roots

The second step involves accessing the root canal system and removing the infected or damaged pulp tissue from the pulp chamber and root canals with specialised dental instruments. The canals are flushed with a sterile solution to remove debris and kill bacteria. This helps to disinfect the root canals and prevent further infection.

Step 3: Filling the canals

After cleaning and disinfecting the canals, they are filled with a material called gutta-percha, a plastic substance, to seal the canal and prevent recontamination. Once the infected pulp is removed, it leaves a space where bacteria can enter and regrow. Filling and sealing this space ensures there’s no risk of infection in the canal again.

Step 4: Adding the crown

A dental crown is usually recommended to protect the filling and the remaining tooth. This helps restore the tooth’s appearance and covers the filling underneath, providing strength and improving functionality. A custom crown is made with your tooth impressions and matched to your original tooth shade. This is placed on top of the root filling and fills the space above the gumline.

How to Prevent Tooth Pain After a Root Canal?

It is common to experience some pain and swelling after a root canal procedure. This generally subsides after the fourth day. Your dentists will recommend pain medication to help with the pain and swelling, which should be taken at the recommended time to help make your recovery more comfortable.

Pain after a root canal varies for every individual. Some might experience little to no pain, while others may have more. This is a normal reaction of your body after any surgical procedure and is part of the body’s healing process. Generally patients start to feel noticeably better from day 4 onwards.

Some other tips to help manage pain after a root canal include:

  • To reduce swelling and alleviate pain, you can apply a cold compress or ice pack to the cheek or jaw area near the treated tooth. Use it for about 15 minutes at a time, with intervals of at least 10 minutes between applications.
  • It’s best to avoid putting excessive pressure on the tooth that underwent the root canal treatment. Stick to soft foods and avoid chewing on that side of your mouth until the area has fully healed.
  • Proper oral hygiene is essential for the healing process. You can brush, floss and use interdental brushes normally both before and after the root canal procedure is done.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater (a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water) a few times a day. This can help reduce inflammation and promote healing.
  • Sensitive teeth after a root canal are common. To minimise discomfort, avoid consuming foods and beverages that are very hot or cold until your tooth has fully recovered.

Your dentist will provide specific post-treatment instructions tailored to your situation. It’s important to follow these guidelines diligently, including any recommended follow-up visits, to ensure proper healing and prevent complications.

Save your Smile with our Gentle Root Canal Treatment

A root canal treatment can help save a decayed or damaged tooth, preventing the need for potential extraction. Living with the pain of a decayed tooth is a lot more painful and risky for your dental health than the recovery from a root canal. The procedure itself is virtually painless with the use of anaesthesia, and most patients start feeling better on the fourth day after surgery. At Whitehorse Dental, we take a preventive approach to dentistry, helping you maintain your teeth and gums for a lasting and healthy smile. With bespoke treatments, a range of dental services and a gentle touch, we’re here to help you achieve optimal oral health. Book a consultation today.