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Root canals sound like they would be quite painful. The dentist or endodontist must go into the root, or roots, of the tooth in order to extract diseased or infected tissue and drain abscesses. Many people are in pain prior to getting this dental procedure done because of the infection in the roots of the tooth. The pulpy matter in the root contains nerves and blood vessels that do not respond kindly to pressure. With modern anesthesia, most patients report that root canals are not any more painful than having a tooth filled.
Some people may experience pain while having a root canal, and a few different things can cause this. If the area around the tooth is not properly anesthetized, the patient may feel some of the work being done. Someone who is undergoing the procedure should stop the dentist if he or she is feeling pain, since normally another application of local anesthetic can fix the problem.
People who fear dentistry often have a higher expectation of pain from dental procedures. This fear and anxiety can cause increased pain sensitivity. Dentists can address this in a number of ways, and nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, often helps patients relax so that procedures can be done with ease.
A person with extreme anxiety may also benefit from prescription benzodiazepines like Valium® or Xanax®. Some medical professionals also offer sleeping dentistry, where the patient is given anesthetic that produces near unconsciousness. This can help the most nervous patient survive a root canal with very minimal pain.
Some people experience pain during root canals because of problems associated with their jaws, especially the thermandibular joint. In some cases, people have trouble with popping, clicking, or with the jaw locking. Patients who are aware of this issue prior to getting dental work can discuss their options with the dentist, but they should expect a little bit of jaw soreness after all dental procedures.
After a root canal has been completed, many report some minor pain for a few days, and it is not uncommon to have the tooth feel a bit tender. This can usually be addressed with over-the-counter pain relief medications like ibuprofen, which reduces swelling. It may also help the jaw joint feel more comfortable. Patients should ask a medical professional if ibuprofen or other pain relievers will interfere with other medical conditions or medications. Some patients report relief from pain, especially if an infected tooth was particularly troublesome.
Those with a low pain tolerance may find more relief by taking a mild prescription of codeine or other narcotics after root canals. Dentists can prescribe these medications if previous dental procedures have been poorly tolerated. With medications like codeine, the patient must be certain to take them on a full stomach, or a very upset stomach may be added to the mouth pain.
If pain continues and is not helped by medications, the patient should contact his or her dentist. Sometimes, a root is very narrow and a bit of infection is missed, or there might be an infection elsewhere near the tooth. Severe pain is an indication that something is not right, and the problem should be addressed quickly.