What Should a Patient Expect During a Root Canal?

What Should a Patient Expect During a Root Canal?

Has your dentist recently recommended a root canal for you? While many people likely recognize the name of this procedure, they probably don’t know much about the procedure itself, and most importantly, why a dentist would recommend such a treatment for one of their patients.

What Is a Root Canal?

Most people are familiar with dental procedures such as dental fillings and crowns, both of which address issues with the exterior portion of a tooth. A root canal differs from these types of procedures in that it corrects an issue with an interior portion of a tooth called the pulp.

Anatomy of the Pulp

Inside a tooth, the pulp extends all the way from the crown (the exterior surface of the tooth that first meets the gums), down to the lower tips of a tooth’s root system. The pulp itself is rich in nerves, connective tissue, and blood vessels.

What Happens During a Root Canal Procedure?

Sometimes the interior pulp of a tooth becomes inflamed. During a root canal procedure, the inflamed tissue is removed, the surrounding areas are cleaned and disinfected, and the space where the pulp formerly resided is filled and sealed with a special material.

How to Know if You Need a Root Canal

A dentist may tell their patient they need a root canal if the pulp of one of their teeth is badly infected or decayed. The decay or infection can stem from a variety of issues. Sometimes a person may injure a tooth through facial trauma. In other cases, a tooth may crack or chip, which invites infection/decay into the inner tissues (the pulp). Some people may have a cavity on the exterior of one of their teeth that has been allowed to decay. Over time, the decay from the cavity extends into the interior portion of the tooth where the pulp resides.

A person may need a root canal if they notice recurring, severe pain when they chew or bite down on foods with the affected tooth. Other symptoms associated with infected/decaying pulp include:

  • Tender or swollen gums
  • Heat/cold sensitivity
  • Darkening of the gums
  • Pimples on the gums near the affected tooth

If left untreated, infected/decaying pulp can eventually become very sensitive and painful as pus begins to form in the affected area. This is known as a tooth abscess. Without treatment, an abscessed tooth can quickly become a very painful, serious condition.

What to Expect After a Root Canal

A patient can expect to be awake and pain-free during their root canal. After the procedure is over and as the anesthetic wears off, you’ll likely begin to feel some pain around the affected tooth, and you may notice that the surrounding gums are swollen. For pain after the procedure, your dentist will likely recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If your pain lasts more than several days, or if it becomes severe at any time, you should report it to your dentist.

You should plan to take it easy for the rest of the day after your root canal, and you should avoid chewing on the side of the affected tooth until your next dentist appointment (typically a few days after your root canal). Most people can resume their normal level of activity the day after having a root canal.

When you return to the dentist, they’ll take an X-ray to make sure all the infection and decay are gone. Although the purpose of having a root canal is to preserve a tooth, sometimes the tooth may have undergone significant decay. If a dentist feels there’s not enough structure to properly support the original tooth, they may decide to place a permanent crown over the affected tooth.

Root canals are very effective and have a 95% success rate. Many people, especially if they take good care of their teeth, have no further issues with their once-infected tooth.


If you’ve been experiencing pain in one or more teeth, it’s always a good idea to see a dentist sooner rather than later. Prompt treatment can eliminate your pain, and it increases the likelihood you’ll be able to save your tooth while also avoiding some of the more complicated dental issues that may occur.

We want to help you maintain a bright, healthy, and confident smile for a lifetime. Contact us today to schedule your next dental appointment with Briargate Dental.