What to expect after your tooth's root canal treatment. / Will your tooth hurt? / Aftercare.
After your root canal work, you'll no doubt be curious about what to expect during the following hours and days.
- Post-operative pain. - Most people will experience little or no discomfort after any of their scheduled root canal appointments. But for those who do, here's information about possible causes and solutions.
- General precautions. - After treatment, you should still take things easy with your tooth for a while.
- Your tooth will require a final restoration. - After all of a tooth's root canal therapy has been completed, it will need some type of permanent dental restoration (possibly a post and core with crown). Having your dentist perform this work in a timely fashion helps to insure your tooth's long-term success.
Will you have any pain or discomfort after your appointment?
The hope is that you will notice very little, if any, discomfort after any of your planned root canal appointments. If something does hurt, here's what may be going on.
a) Your gums around your tooth may seem a little tender.
During each root canal visit, your dentist will place a rubber dam around your tooth. The clamp that holds a dam in place can pinch the surrounding gum tissue. This tenderness, however, should disappear in just a day or so.
b) Your tooth may seem a little tender too.
It is common that for the first day or so following your treatment your tooth might feel a little tender.
Any sensitivity that is noticed can usually be controlled by way of taking an over-the-counter analgesic, especially one that has anti-inflammatory properties such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or aspirin. (Read their label so you know these products are OK for your use.)
The discomfort you notice is probably inflammation.
The most common source of pain after root canal treatment is inflammation located in the tissues that surround the tooth's root. (This can make the ibuprofen remedy mentioned above a very effective one).
This tissue may have been irritated by the dentist's root canal files if they worked their way past the end of the root, or debris that has escaped into this area. And although a dentist will do their best to minimize the chance of these events occurring, they are not necessarily preventable.
Infection is a less source of problems.
It's possible that performing a tooth's root canal will trigger the activation (or reactivation) of bacteria harbored within it. If so, the net result can be an acute infection.
This is a less likely event than simple inflammation but it is possible. With this scenario, a dentist will typically prescribe an antibiotic. They may also prescribe a narcotic analgesic (pain reliever) that can help to keep their patient comfortable until the infection process has subsided.
How likely is it that you will experience a problem?
Tsesis (2008) evaluated published research on this topic and concluded that the incidence rate for endodontic post-treatment flare-up lay on the order of about 8%. (Flare-up was defined as the development of pain or swelling after a scheduled root canal appointment that necessitated an unscheduled dental visit for attention.)
As further example of what to expect, another study, Al-Negrish (2006), followed a group of 112 patients for a period of one week after the completion of their root canal therapy. (We chose to cite this study because, to some degree, it quantified the level of pain the patients were experiencing.)
This study found that at two days 90 patients had no pain, 9 had slight pain, and 13 had moderate to severe pain. At day 7, 104 patients had no pain, 4 had slight pain, 3 had moderate pain and one was experiencing severe pain.
Keep in touch with your dentist.
Of course, it should go without saying that in all cases, whenever you have a question of any type, you should always feel free to contact your dentist's office. Most situations will require little or no direct assistance from them. But they are the ones who have the experience and knowledge to know what treatment is indicated, and when.
Scheduled visits are different than emergency visits.
The information found on this page primarily just applies to those types of appointments scheduled after a tooth's need for root canal treatment has already been diagnosed and the tooth, if previously painful, has since settled down. That's different than an emergency visit where a dentist must take steps to get a painful tooth under control.
Emergency visits typically involve a situation where the dentist has to deal with acutely inflamed tissues, and they are more unpredictable. However, in most cases, your dentist's emergency services will effectively settle your tooth down and the post-operative conditions we describe above will apply.
What precautions should you take with a tooth that has just had root canal treatment?
Don't look for trouble. It's usually best to exercise caution with a tooth that is undergoing endodontic therapy, or has just had it finished. Until your dentist tells you otherwise, you should favor the tooth. Here are some reasons why:
- In those cases where more than one appointment is needed, the temporary filling that's been placed might crack, break or be lost. If so, saliva (and the bacteria and debris it contains) will recontaminate the interior of your tooth and your dentist will have to spend your next appointment cleaning out your tooth a second time.
- Since it now feels so much better, a person is often eager to make use of their tooth again. Until your dentist has had a chance to finish rebuilding your tooth, it should be considered to be fragile. What a disappointment it would be to spend the time, effort, and money to have root canal treatment performed, only to have the tooth irreparably break or crack before it was fully restored.