Below is pre & post-care instructions to help you following root canal therapy. If you are looking instead for overall information on root canal therapy, click here instead.
Things to know prior to your root canal procedure:
- Your root canal treatment may take 2 appointments to complete (where the first appointment may focus on placing medicament in the canal of the tooth getting you out of pain if the tooth is symptomatic & the second appointment will focus on finishing our work once the tooth is feeling better). We will always complete the treatment in one session where possible. Each appointment can last roughly 1-2 hours depending on the number of canals to be treated and the difficulty level of your particular case.
- The tooth will need further restorative treatment once the root canal is complete. As outlined and presented to you with your treatment options, root canal teeth generally require a core (large permanent filling) & crown treatment as these teeth are susceptible to fracture. Needing a crown after a root canal depends highly on the location of the tooth in the mouth—teeth towards the back of the mouth like molars and premolars are needed more for chewing, and generally require crowns, where incisors or canines which aren’t needed for chewing don’t always require crowns. Click to read more about dental crowns & crown pre-cost care.
Let’s talk money: Since payment for treatment rendered is due upon appt dismissal, we like to be very transparent about the financials for the convenience of our patients.
Most dental insurances cover a portion of the root canal procedure if you haven’t reached your annual max. We always supply a treatment plan with an estimate of your portion, but this is just an estimate. Ultimately it is your responsibility to reach out to your insurance company if you require exact figures. You can contact them with the code(s) provided in your treatment plan to gather that information.
If you do not have dental coverage, consider joining our Tooth Booth Smile Plan which covers preventative care (exams, cleanings, fluoride, xrays) at 100% & restorative care (fillings, root canals, crowns, bridges) at 20% for the year with no annual max. Click here to learn more about our Smile Plan.
We also accept Care Credit if you’re looking for a convenient payment plan for your treatment.
- Stock up on soft foods. After a root canal, try to eat foods that require very little chewing, like applesauce, yogurt, eggs, & fish. Avoid hard or hot foods that might hurt your teeth.
“Will I feel pain during and/or after my root canal?”
Many endodontic procedures are performed to relieve the pain of toothaches caused by pulp inflammation or infection. With modern techniques & anesthetics, most patients report that they are comfortable during the procedure. We offer “laughing gas sedation” or can prescribe a drug for procedural anxiety to help with any shaky nerves. For the first few days after treatment, your tooth may feel sensitive, especially if there was pain or infection before the procedure. This discomfort can be relieved with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Follow the post-care instructions below.
“Can I be put to sleep for my root canal?”
Generally speaking, most root canals are completed under local anesthesia only, meaning just the area to be treated is numbed, but if you feel like you need anxiety control beyond what our office can offer in the form of nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) sedation and/or RX anti-anxiety medications, then we can refer you to a specialist that offers deeper sedation options although they’re limited for this type of procedure.”
“Will I be able to return to normal activities following my treatment?”
For the first few days after a root canal, some patients experience sensitivity, swelling, or inflammation, while others experience an uneven bite or a reaction to the medication provided, but you can return to school/work oftentimes the same day, but definitely the day following treatment. We suggest that you refrain from strenuous workouts for 48-72 hours following your treatment so your body can concentrate on healing.
“What happens if I decide not to get the suggested root canal treatment?”
If you are in need of a root canal, the infected pulp in the tooth needs to be removed. This can be accomplished via the root canal treatment to save the tooth or by removal of the tooth all together. An antibiotic alone will not address the problem long-term. The infection will return if appropriate removal of the infection (root canal or tooth removal) isn’t completed. If left untreated, the infection in the tooth can spread to other parts of the body, and in some cases can even be life threatening.
“Is it better to get a root canal or extraction?”
It is always better to maintain a healthy, natural smile whenever possible, and root canals allow for that where applicable. Extracting and then replacing a tooth results in more treatments and procedures, and could even impact neighboring teeth and supporting gums. We always cover both options when presenting treatment options and we’re always happy to cover this information again if needed at your appointment. Treatment decisions are always up to you. It’s our job to outline the options available to your particular situation so you have all the information to make the decision for you. The most important thing in these cases is that you do not ignore the dental problem that has been pointed out to you for the reason outlined in the above question.
“When is it too late to get a root canal?”
Waiting too long to get a root canal can oftentimes result in tooth loss. This generally occurs when the root of an infected tooth has gone untreated for so long that it results in bone loss and or damage beyond restorability.
“Will my tooth turn black after a root canal?”
Sometimes after a root canal, the tooth can become slightly discolored or develop spots called intrinsic stains, where the tooth bleeds internally and the inner part of the tooth turns yellow or dark. Luckily, the tooth can be whitened afterward through internal (non-vital) bleaching. Our office can help you with that follow up, if it were to be needed.
“Can I smoke after a root canal?”
While you can smoke after a root canal, it is not recommended as smoking increases the risk of needing another procedure. In fact, smokers are nearly twice as likely to need root canals than non-smokers, and that number increases with more years of smoking.
“Can I drive myself after my root canal appointment?”
Most root canal procedures are done using local anesthesia, meaning only the areas that are being operated on will be numb during the course of the procedure. This means you are awake and aware during the process and can drive and operate machinery as you normally would immediately after the procedure is over, even if you opt for nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”). The only way you’ll need a driver for your appointment is if you opt for an RX drug to help control your anxiety.
“Do root canals cause cancer?”
There is absolutely no evidence that a root canal can cause cancer. In fact, a root canal removes infection that could spread and cause serious disease or illness. All claims that root canals cause cancer or other illnesses are complete myths.
“Can a root canal fail?”
Root canals can fail for a variety of reasons, including targeted bacteria that survived the procedure, breakdown of the crown or its inner sealant, or essentially anything that allows the tooth that previously had a root canal treatment to become infected.
“What causes a tooth treated with a root canal to need additional treatment?”
New trauma, deep decay, or a loose, cracked or broken filling can cause new infection in your tooth. In some cases, the endodontist may discover additional very narrow or curved canals that could not be treated during the initial procedure. Click here to read more about re-treatments.
- Do not eat after your appointment dismissal until your numbness has reversed completely to avoid injuring your tongue, lips, a/o cheeks.
- You may experience moderate pain /sensitivity to pressure on your tooth & gum soreness for a few days. This is normal. As the numbing wears off, you may feel some tenderness in the area for a few days as everything heals and some mild soreness in your jaw from keeping your mouth open for an extended period during the procedure or even from the injections used to numb you. The worst can be expected around 48 hours following treatment, then should gradually begin to improve.
- To treat pain: These temporary symptoms usually respond well to over-the-counter. You can rotate acetamenophin (Tylenol) per dosage directions on the bottle & ibuprofen (Motrin) up to 800 mg per dose every 4 hours if there’s no individual contraindications to your taking either med. If you were prescribed any pain medication, you should take as directed & as needed.
Though you may experience a slightly different sensation from your treated tooth than your other teeth for some time, you should contact us by phone immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Severe pain lasting more than a few days
- Visible swelling inside or outside your mouth
- An allergic reaction to any prescribed medication (rash, hives or itching)
- Your bite feels uneven
- The temporary crown or filling, if one was put in place, comes out (losing a thin layer is normal)
- Symptoms you experienced prior to treatment return
- Usually a temporary filling is placed on your tooth after treatment. Until the permanent restoration is placed, you should be careful not to lose your temporary filling by chewing on the opposite side. It is normal to lose a thin layer of your temp filling to leave it feeling “sunken.” ***If you lose your temporary filling prior to your follow-up treatment, this is not an emergency but please call our scheduling team so your doctor may decide whether to see you sooner than originally planned.
- Continue your normal brushing & flossing routine.
- Follow up with our office to place the final restoration as you have been advised (usually around 3 weeks to ensure symptoms for the treated tooth have subsided). Any unnecessary delay on the placement of your permanent restoration may permanently & negatively affect your treated tooth. If the tooth is neglected, chances of the tooth being rendered non-restorable with the occurrence of damage are very high. Your treatment for the root canal treated tooth IS NOT COMPLETED until you have followed up with the appropriate aftercare restorations which typically include a “core & crown” procedure, which were both outlined in your treatment plan presentation when our team explained treatment options for your tooth.
- Once your tooth is permanently restored & treatment of the tooth is complete, regular care (cleanings & checkups) are important in your continuing care to prevent further issues before they arise with other teeth as well as your recently root canal treated tooth. It’s possible for a properly treated tooth to require treatment again even years after a first procedure so proper monitoring is advised as is the case with all teeth. No worries, reinfected teeth can usually be saved–especially if caught early.