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Root Canal Therapy: What to Expect

root canal xray
Creative Commons image by Bashar Al-Ba’noon

You’ve heard those dreaded words: “You need a root canal.” Your mind might go to a dark place, convinced that you’re about to withstand tremendous pain and hours in the dental chair. Fortunately, this is not true! With advances in modern dentistry, root canal therapy is a pain-free endeavor that is, from the patient’s perspective, not unlike having a filling done. Here’s what you can expect if you need root canal therapy.

You Might Be Referred Out

Some root canal treatments are straightforward, and your general dentist will complete the procedure. Other times, your dentist will be able to tell from the x-ray that your canals are very curved, narrow or otherwise not easily accessible. In these cases, you might be referred to an endodontist, or root canal specialist. Once you know that you need a root canal, talk to your general dentist to decide whether you need a specialist.

You’ll Be Numb

It used to be that it was hard to achieve good anesthesia for root canals, but this is no longer the case. Today’s local anesthetics are very good, and most patients are able to enjoy completely pain-free root canal therapy. If you have a severe infection, it can be harder to achieve total numbness, so in most cases, you’ll go on antibiotics first to reduce the infection. There are other options for pain control if local anesthesia isn’t an option, so talk to your dentist or endodontist if you are concerned. Remember that the goal is for you not to feel any pain.

It Will Take a While

Depending on whether your root canal therapy will be done in one or more visits, you might be spending a good chunk of time (often one to two hours, but occasionally longer) in the dental chair. Because a lot of measurements need to be taken and it takes a while to widen the canals, a root canal does take longer than a simple filling, most of the time. If you need a break, let the dentist know; in general, you can get up to use the bathroom or move around if need be, except for at the very end of the procedure, when you need to stay still and saliva needs to be kept out of the site.

You’ll Be Sore for a Day or Two

After a root canal, you will probably experience some soreness. The vast majority of patients find that over-the-counter medications (like Advil or Tylenol) are enough to keep any discomfort under control. If the pain is severe, it’s important to call the dentist promptly, as you may need to be evaluated for an infection. If you are prescribed antibiotics, be sure to take them as directed until they’re gone; don’t stop taking them once the pain subsides in a day or two.

You’ll Need to Have a Final Restoration

In most cases, you will need to return to your dentist for a crown after a root canal. Talk to your dentist about your final restoration and when it should be done. This appointment should not be put off once your root canal treatment is completely healed, because an endodontically treated tooth is more brittle than one without a root canal.

Your dentist or endodontist can answer all of your questions about your upcoming root canal therapy, including how long it should take and whether you will need more than one visit, as this depends on the specific circumstances involved. Give us a call if we can address any of your concerns.

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