It’s not every day you need a root canal, so when you hear your dentist utter those words, it’s natural to feel overcome with nerves. You know what it’s like to get a filling, or to get a tooth pulled, but a root canal sounds so serious and intimidating.
While root canals are somewhat extensive, they’re less scary—and less painful—than you might think. Knowing what to expect at your root canal might make the experience a little less intimidating, so here are three things you should know before the big day comes.
1. Your root canal repair may take two appointments.
The first appointment is the main procedure that treats the inflammation. If you are in need of a root canal repair, that means the inside of your tooth is decaying or infected. Instead of having to remove your tooth later on, a root canal procedure saves the tooth by cleaning out that infected tissue.
The inside of your tooth contains a soft tissue known as pulp, and it houses nerves and blood vessels. This pulp is important while your teeth are growing during childhood. Things like deep cavities or a cracked tooth can cause the pulp to become inflamed, which is what causes the pain and swelling of that tooth, according to the American Dental Association.
At your first appointment, the endodontist (a dentist who specializes in the inside of the tooth) makes an opening at the top of your tooth, cleans out the infected pulp from the chamber and root canal, and fills the open space with a rubbery material. (You no longer need this pulp during adulthood.) You may get a temporary filling on the tooth to help protect it.
You’ll need to come back for a second appointment to get a crown placed over the treated tooth. This helps bring the tooth back to full function. (In some cases, you may be able to get everything done in one appointment.)
2. The root canal procedure shouldn’t be painful.
You’ll receive anesthesia during the procedure, and most patients rarely complain of pain. Of course, after the procedure, your tooth might be sensitive for a while—but this will likely be a major improvement from the pain you felt in your tooth before your root canal repair.
3. You’ll need to avoid chewing with your tooth before you get your crown.
You’ll have to be cautious between your first and second appointments. After the initial root canal, your tooth will be more prone to fracture. You may need to chew on one side of your mouth, for example, to use your unprotected tooth as little as possible.
The crown helps fully restore the use of your tooth, and after that, you won’t need to do anything special to care for your repaired tooth—just practice good dental hygiene as always. Taking care of your restored tooth should help it last the rest of your life.