How You Should Be Managing Root Canal Pain

A hip, young man enjoys a cold beverage after his root canal pain subsides.

Times certainly do change. Simply mutter the phrase “root canal,” and a generation of older patients is likely to reflexively shudder in discomfort. The fantastic news is that this gut reaction is no longer warranted. Thanks to new technologies, root canals are tremendously more comfortable than in decades past, and recent advances in local anesthetics ensure most patients experience minimal to no discomfort when undergoing treatment.

This progress is not really much consolation, however, to the small subsection of patients who report some level of discomfort after their endodontic treatment. For the unlucky few that do need to manage their pain, it is important to note that, in routine cases, its severity will diminish over time. Patients usually notice pain a few hours after the root canal appointment, and it can last anywhere between several hours and a couple of days. If you’re going to have a bad day, it’s usually 48-72 hours after treatment. 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 Your 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 that is currently fueling your discomfort. Be certain to read the product label to confirm it suits your needs and do not exceed its dosing recommendations. If NSAID’s or acetaminophen-based products come up short, talk to your healthcare provider 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, and medication can take as much 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 likeliest culprit for your continued discomfort by far 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.