Thanks to new technologies, root canals are tremendously more comfortable than in decades past. Recent advances in local anesthetics ensure most patients experience minimal to no discomfort. The recent addition of the has significantly decreased issues during the procedure and post-op pain after. This progress is not really much consolation, however, to the small subsection of patients who report some level of discomfort after their endodontic treatment.

Patients usually notice pain a few hours after the root canal appointment. It can last anywhere between several hours to a couple of days. If you’re going to have a bad day, it’s usually 48-72 hours after treatment when swelling in the bone around the roots will typically peak. That’s why it’s important to get ahead of any pain you might have in a day or two with over-the-counter medications.

How to Manage Pain After A Root Canal

  • Over-the-counter NSAID’s (“non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs”) can be effective in treating any tissue inflammation triggered by the root canal. Be certain to read the product label to confirm that it suits your needs and you are not exceeding its dosing recommendations. If NSAID’s or acetaminophen-based products come up short, talk to your dentist ASAP about your options for a prescription painkiller.
  • Take your antibiotics, if prescribed, exactly as prescribed by your dentist. It is perfectly normal for a tooth that has undergone endodontic therapy to be tender after treatment. Medication can take as long as 48 hours from its start to fully kick into gear.
  • Use the tried-and-true cold compress. An effective (if traditional) remedy for both pain and swelling, a cold compress is most helpful if undertaken in 5-minute cycles. You can repeat the process every 15-20 minutes or so, as needed.
  • Gentle, thorough cleaning of the tooth and surrounding area can encourage faster healing and, consequently, pain relief.
  • A saltwater rinse sooths inflamed, irritated gums and cheek tissue, as well as reduces swelling. It can be beneficial to repeat this process a handful of times a day.
  • Avoid difficult-to-eat foods at all costs.
  • Sleeping on an elevated pillow can help reduce blood pooling at the treatment location.

What’s at The Root Of Your Discomfort?

The most likely culprit for your continued discomfort is tissue inflammation in the surrounding bone and soft tissue. It simply takes time for inflammation and swelling caused by a diseased tooth to subside.

Patients should absolutely be cognizant of their health in the days that follow a root canal. It is highly unlikely, but possible, that other issues may be causing you trouble. These include a “high” dental filling, gum tissue trauma, or an active infection. However, through coupling an informed, responsible self-care regimen with an open dialogue with your endodontist, you should be enjoying some sweet relief (and a healthier mouth!) before you know it.

About the Author

Dr. Harris has been a practicing dentist since 2005. In 2012, he received his Master’s of Science in Dentistry and a certificate in Endodontics. He founded East Coast Endodontics shortly after receiving his master’s degree. He also currently holds a part-time position as a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Endodontics department at Virginia Commonwealth University. View his full bio.