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What's It Like: To have a root canal

A root canal is a dental procedure used to treat a decayed, infected tooth.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: November 11, 2012

The procedure is mostly painless, especially after the infected nerve is taken out.

The amount of pain you will feel after the procedure will depend on how diseased the nerve was. You might experience mild discomfort, and your tooth might be tender, especially when you eat. Your dentist will likely advise you to avoid chewing with the tooth until the infection is entirely gone and you have a permanent crown.

What are the risk factors?

A tooth infection that results in a root canal can be caused by a cracked tooth, cavities or an injury. This means, for the most part, that root canals are preventable — if you practice good dental hygiene, such as regularly brushing of your teeth and flossing.

The risk factors of a root canal procedure include losing the infected tooth, or experiencing nerve damage or further infection. You also run the risk of the infected tooth fracturing. It's important to discuss benefits and risks of any surgery with your dentist or oral surgeon.

What's the recovery time?

For the most part, root canal patients can return to work the next day. You might be prescribed some type of painkiller for the first few days after the root canal. The infected tooth might be sensitive after the surgery, so you might have to be careful when eating and drinking.

What's the follow-up?

After a root canal, many patients must see a dentist to have a crown placed on the tooth that was infected. During a root canal, your tooth's nerve tissue is removed, which can cause the tooth to become brittle.

Usually, dentists are performing root canals on teeth with large fillings so you're going to need a crown to protect the brittle tooth. Crowns are usually made of gold, porcelain or porcelain mixed with metal and are made to fit over your tooth's natural crown.

Source: Dr. Craig Herwig, dental director at Variety Care; The Mayo Clinic; U.S. National Library of Medicine.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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