Recovering from a root canal is easier than most patients imagine. The actual recovery time varies, depending on how many visits to the dentist’s office the complete procedure takes. A majority patients report that the discomfort of a root canal is no worse than that of having a filling placed in a tooth. Root canal recovery is also normally very fast and uncomplicated.
A root canal is used to save and repair a decayed or infected tooth so that the tooth can return to full function. The complete procedure can take more than one office visit since in some cases additional restoration of the tooth needs to be done after the initial root canal is completed. To perform a root canal, a dentist or endodontist drills an access hole in the tooth to be able to remove the pulp, the nerve and any bacteria and debris material within the tooth. After this space within the tooth is completely cleaned out, the tooth is sealed with a sealer paste and gutta percha, a rubber compound. The access hole is also closed using a filling. If the tooth needs any additional work, a crown or other restoration method is used. The sealing of the tooth can be done as soon as the root canal is finished, though some dentists do wait a week before they seal it, especially if there is infection in the tooth.
Root canal recovery can take a few days, but most people can return to their regular activities the next day. Sensitivity and pain will be present in the first few days after the root canal. This can be alleviated with the use of over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen, but some doctors do prescribe stronger pain medication. In some cases, the doctor will indicate an antibiotic to eliminate any infection that was present during the procedure.
If the root canal takes more than one office visit, the doctor usually recommends that the patient refrain from chewing on the tooth. Until the tooth is sealed, the doctor will place a temporary filling on it to protect it from saliva and any bacteria or debris that can get into the space. Chewing anything hard can cause recontamination of the tooth, and it can also cause a fragile tooth to break, complicating the entire procedure.
Though 95 percent of root canals are successful, there are some possible complications that can develop during or after root canal recovery. If a tooth had more than the expected numbers of canals, one could have been left untreated. Other complications include the tooth not being completely sealed, allowing bacteria to get in and infection to develop again or a dentist missing a crack on the root when doing the root canal. Additionally, a defective filling or crown can also allow bacteria to get into the canal and an infection to begin again. If pain persists after a week when the patient bites down, it might mean that the crown installed needs to be filed down.