If you recently had root canal therapy you should be feeling much better. Contrary to the popular saying, the pain doesn’t come from the “root canal,” short for the process of cleaning out an infection of a tooth’s hollow roots, which is the actual source of pain. This becomes necessary after a tooth becomes cracked, dental decay goes untreated, or periodontal bacteria get into the roots after a dental procedure.
If you believe you may need to have a root canal, it is important to know in advance what steps to take right afterwards. The procedure is one of dentistry’s most successful, with as high as a 95% positive outcome, especially if performed by an endodontist, who has the training, experience, and specialized equipment and tools. The only pain remaining should be when the anesthetic wears off from surgery, which can usually be managed with ibuprofen or naproxen (swelling can be kept down during the first day with a cold pack). Don’t eat for a few hours after treatment and avoid chewing or biting on the treated tooth for another two days.
But even using a microscope to detect every part of the canals that might harbor infection is a major challenge even for an endodontist and on occasion something might remain. Some cracks are so small they don’t show up on x-rays. On rare occasions, the seal over the cleaned-out root breaks, or the crown placed on top to protect the roots gets chipped. Watch for signs that healing has been disrupted: pain lasts more than three days, increased sensitivity of the tooth to touch, it seems to darken at the gum line and below, or the gums around the affected tooth swell or have a boil or discharge. If any of these things happen, call for an immediate appointment.
If the decision was made not to place a crown or filling over the tooth at the time of the root canal procedure, but you do not seem to have any negative symptoms, be sure to return to have this done as soon as convenient. Because your endodontist filled the cleaned-out roots with a neutral material, they are not at high risk of reinfection, but better to provide that extra layer of protection sooner rather than later.
Of course, preventing further infections for all your teeth is important, so be dedicated and consistent about brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day (stroking with soft bristles from the bottom to the top of the teeth on both sides) and flossing twice a day.