It's estimated that dental professionals perform more than 15 million root canals each year in the United States. If you've never had a root canal before, chances are you aren't really sure what is involved, how to prepare, and what it will be like during the recovery period. Learning more about the process and recovery can ease your stress and help ensure you get through the procedure more smoothly.

Here is what to expect before, during, and after your root canal and a few tips to help you prepare and get through the experience.

Before Your Root Canal

The first step in preparing for a root canal is to understand why you need the procedure. A root canal becomes necessary when the pulp inside the tooth's root swells or becomes infected. The infection or swelling can occur for several reasons, including damage to the tooth and deep decay. There are several signs that you require a root canal, including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling of the gums near the impacted tooth
  • Discoloration
  • Tenderness and sensitivity to heat and cold

In some cases, there are no symptoms, and your endodontist or dentist will discover the affected tooth during a routine visit.

Talk with your dentist or endodontist before the procedure about any medications you're currently taking. If you are on blood thinners, including aspirin, the dentist will ask you to stop taking the medications before the procedure. Your dentist may or may not prescribe antibiotics before the procedure to lessen the impact of the infection.

If you're being placed under general anesthesia, do not eat the night before the procedure. If localized numbing agents are being used instead of anesthesia, your dentist or endodontist may allow you to eat a few hours before the root canal. Avoid consuming alcohol or smoking before the procedure, as both of these activities can impact your recovery time.

During Your Root Canal

Depending on your specific needs and the severity of the root damage, the entire root canal may require two or more visits with your endodontist or dentist. Before the procedure, the dental professional will check your X-rays and administer the numbing agent or place you under general anesthesia.

Next, the dentist or endodontist will protect the tooth from saliva and bacteria by covering the area surrounding the tooth with a thin sheet. The dental professional then creates a little hole in the top of the tooth so they can reach the root canal. The infected pulp is removed and if necessary, the root is made larger to accommodate the filling material.

In some cases, if too much pulp needs to be removed or the tooth isn't strong enough, the dentist will also place a small shaft into the pulp to provide more support. This shaft is then covered with the filling material. This temporary filling will be left in place for several days to allow the area to heal.

During your next visit, your dentist or endodontist will remove the temporary filling and secure the affected tooth with a permanent filling or crown. In rare cases, you will need to visit your endodontist or dentist again in the future. Typically, if there is additional damage or decay or if the root canal fails, the tooth will require an additional procedure.

After Your Root Canal

Once your root canal is over, and the numbing agent or anesthetic wears off, you will experience some discomfort. Taking an over-the-counter or prescribed pain reliever will help to relieve any pain and discomfort you are feeling. Your tooth will be sensitive and sore during the next few days and weeks. It is critical to protect your tooth from further damage and to care for it properly.

Here are a few simple tips to help you during the first few days after your root canal:

  • Take any pain medications and antibiotics as prescribed. If your dentist prescribes any pain medications or antibiotics, take them as prescribed. Even if you're feeling better, it's important to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent infection.
  • Avoid certain foods. There are several foods you should avoid while your tooth is healing. These include apples, caramel, gum, and any foods that are crunchy.
  • Brush and floss with care. Maintaining your regular oral hygiene routine is important. However, be gentle when you brush and floss the affected tooth to avoid any pain or damage.

Watch for any signs of infection, including severe and constant pain, severe swelling of your gums or cheeks, smelly discharge, or a lump on the gum near the affected tooth. If you notice any of these signs, contact your dentist or endodontist immediately.

Millions of people undergo a root canal procedure each year. If you have any further questions about root canals or your general dental needs, contact the professionals at All Valley Dental.