Are Root Canals Painful? (Not As Much As You Think)

Dr. Christopher Li Etobicoke - Li Family Dental

By Dr. Christopher Li

May 13, 2023

are root canals painful, root canal

For some reason, root canals have earned a reputation as the most painful dental procedure imaginable. However, as dentists, we think it should be the most celebrated procedure because it prevents tooth loss and the need for tooth extraction. Since May 10th is Root Canal Week, we thought it was the perfect time to dispel common myths about this tooth-saving treatment. So – are root canals painful? Not as much as you think. Let’s dive in. 

What Is A Root Canal?

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Also known as “endodontic treatments,” root canals treat deep cavities and badly damaged or infected teeth impacting the tooth pulp. The tooth pulp is the soft inner section of the tooth. When it becomes infected or exposed, it causes inflammation and pain. A root canal is required to remove the infected/exposed pulp in order to treat the tooth and relieve the pain. The procedure eliminates the infection and decay and then seals the tooth with a filling and/or crown. Without a root canal, tooth loss is inevitable as the tooth will either fall out or have to be extracted. 

Why Are Root Canals Scary To Some People?

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Because infection and deep tooth damage hurt, many people associate the pain with the root canal needed to repair the tooth. As a result, they think the root canal itself as scary, wrongfully associating the pain with the procedure instead of with the actual source:  the damaged, infected tooth.

Another reason people think root canals are scary is that many suffer from dental phobias or anxiety. In this case, the thought of any dental treatment is scary. With the reputation that root canals have (wrongfully so) of being painful, the phobia can become overwhelming. However, in the case of dental anxiety, there are special techniques we can use to help reduce your stress so that you can receive the treatment needed to stop the pain and save your tooth. 

4 Common Root Canal Myths Debunked

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Several common myths contribute to the idea that root canals are scary. Myths are made to be debunked, including the following four root canal myths:

1. Root canals require several appointments.

Technically speaking, this is not true. Yes, there are usually three appointments related to your root canal, but only one is the actual root canal procedure itself. The first appointment is the tooth assessment to determine if a root canal is required. The second is the actual root canal procedure, and the final appointment is the placement of your permanent filling or crown.

Keep in mind that if you have an infection, your dentist will often provide antibiotics to help clear it up before they proceed. In some cases, the dentist might be able to perform the root canal at the time they confirm their diagnosis. So, the number of appointments related to the root canal depends on the situation.

2. Root canals are one of the most expensive dental procedures.

The combination of a root canal and crown can be expensive. However, most dental benefits cover a fair share of the costs. If you don’t have a dental plan, the alternative treatment, which is tooth extraction and replacement, is just as expensive and, in some cases, costs more. Also, some people choose tooth extraction and skip the tooth replacement part of the equation, which costs them more in the long run. This is because missing teeth cause a long list of oral health issues, and correcting them down the road is far more expensive than having the root canal in the first place.

3. Root canals aren’t a permanent fix.

Root canals are a permanent fix, removing the infected tooth pulp and restoring functionality of your tooth. When we remove the pulp, it can’t become infected again. However, if you do not maintain an effective oral hygiene regime, you can experience further tooth decay. Poor oral care will inevitably lead to further decay, which can cause different types of infections. Therefore, you need to improve your oral hygiene to avoid further damage to your tooth and the need for root canals in other teeth.

4. Tooth extraction is far easier than a root canal.

Tooth extraction is more challenging than a root canal. In fact, it is a far more painful recovery than a root canal. Although you might experience discomfort after a root canal, it lasts only a few days and is usually mild. On the other hand, an extraction leaves a wound that takes at least a week to heal, making it impossible to eat properly for several days and usually requiring time off work.

You can also experience complications following an extraction, including painful dry sockets. The gap left behind also leads to issues such as shifting if you don’t replace the tooth. Therefore, between a root canal vs extraction, a root canal is always the easiest solution. 

So Really… Are Root Canals Painful?

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All dental procedures include pain management using local anesthesia to numb the area. A root canal is similar to what you experience when getting a filling, although it is a completely different procedure. While you might experience mild discomfort for a day or two as your tooth heals, once the procedure is finished, the pain from the infection will be gone.

What Does A Root Canal Involve?

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Once the local anesthetic sets in, your dentist isolates the tooth with a protective sheet that keeps the tooth dry. Your dentist makes an opening to access the pulp and removes it along with any signs of decay. They then shape the space to prepare it for a filling using “gutta-percha,” a biocompatible material that protects the tooth structure. Finally, the dentist closes the opening with a temporary crown or filling. Any soreness as you heal should be gone within a day or two, and you can then return to have your permanent crown or filling placed.

How Long Is Root Canal Recovery Time?

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The sensitivity and discomfort experienced following a root canal are usually gone within a few days but can take up to a week for some people.

Hopefully this clears up some common confusion about root canals. It’s not the root canal that causes you pain – it’s the infection deep within your tooth that is causing you grief. A root canal is your source of relief from that pain.

If you have pain in your mouth and you don’t know what’s causing it, call us right away at 416-232-2033 or request an appointment by clicking here.

Dr. Christopher Li

About the author

Doctor Christopher Li, DDS
Dr. Chris, as he is affectionately known, is a licensed dentist with over 20 years experience. His caring personality makes even the most tentative person at ease. Patients are constantly commenting about how Dr. Chris is incredible at delivering pain-free freezing, and how he has an amazing chair-side manner.  Dr. Chris loves sharing information with his patients and everyone who has teeth about how to care for their teeth, avoid tooth decay, and the treatments available to help them overcome their tooth pain or other dental issues so they can enjoy life and food to its fullest!

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