Like most dental treatments, root canal therapy is performed using local anaesthesia. This numbs the area of the mouth being treated to prevent pain and discomfort during the procedure. According to one study, most patients who undergo root canal treatment in fact do not find it to be the most painful dental experience they’ve ever had.
So why do many people associate root canals with pain?
Root canal treatment can actually help relieve the pain of an infected tooth. It may be the case that people are mistakenly associating the symptoms of a tooth infection with the treatment that helps take the pain away.
Root canal treatment (endodontic treatment) may be recommended by your dentist if the soft tissues in the centre of your tooth (the pulp) are infected or inflamed.
This can happen if the hard, outer layer of the tooth (the enamel) is damaged by decay or injury or wears down, exposing the interior. As the pulp contains nerve endings, inflammation or infection can make the tooth feel painful or more sensitive to temperature and pressure.
It's possible for a tooth to be infected without any obvious symptoms. Your dentist may spot signs of an infection or damage during your regular check-up.
The root canal procedure involves drilling into the tooth to remove the infected tissue, disinfecting the site, and filling it with a synthetic material. The tooth is then restored to its former appearance and strength by placing a custom crown or large filling over the top.
Local anaesthetic is administered before operating on the tooth. This blocks pain signals to prevent you from feeling pain for the duration of the procedure. If you still feel anxiety, your dentist may offer more sedation options to help you feel comfortable and relaxed.
When the local anaesthetic wears off, the treated tooth may feel sensitive or painful. This can depend on how severe the toothache or infection was prior to treatment, as well as factors such as age, gender and which type of tooth was affected.[4, 5]
This pain will normally wear off after a few days, and can be managed using over-the-counter or prescription medication.
While your tooth is recovering, you should avoid hard, crunchy or chewy foods, as these could cause the restoration to come loose or get damaged. You should continue to brush and floss your teeth as normal.
If your tooth feels painful for longer than a few days, or you have other side-effects, contact your dentist to make an emergency appointment.
Most infected teeth can be saved with root canal therapy. The alternative is to have the tooth extracted.  However, this can lead to more complications and additional treatments being needed to replace the missing tooth.
If you have any questions, or you want to know more about what's involved in a root canal treatment, talk to our friendly team at Sydney CBD Dental. We can help you arrange an appointment with one of our Sydney dentists at a time that's good for you.
 Wong M Lytle R. A comparison of anxiety levels associated with root canal therapy and oral surgery treatment. Journal of Endodontics. 1991; 17(9): 461-465.
 Pak JG White SN. Pain prevalence and severity before, during, and after root canal treatment: a systematic review. Journal of Endodontics. 2011; 37(4): 429-438.
 American Association of Endodontists. Root Canal Explained [Online] 2017 [Accessed July 2018] Available from: https://www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/what-is-a-root-canal/root-canal-explained/
 Ng YL Glennon DJ Setchell DJ Gulabivala K. Prevalence of and factors affecting post-obturation pain in patients undergoing root canal treatment. International Endodontic Journal. 2004; 37(6): 381-391.
 Ali SG Mulay S Palekar A et al. Prevalence of and factors affecting post-obturation pain following a single visit root canal treatment in Indian population: a prospective, randomized clinical trial. Contemp Clin Dent. 2012; 3(4): 459-463.
 Lazarski MP Walker WA Flores CM et al. Epidemiological Evaluation of the Outcomes of Nonsurgical Root Canal Treatment in a Large Cohort of Insured Dental Patients. Journal of Endodontics. 2001; 27(12): 791-796.