The root canal is a procedure that has an unfair reputation. People often expect it to be painful. Modern versions of the root canal procedure, though, may defy some of your expectations so take a look at what the reality is.
Is a Root Canal Painful?
Modern tools, techniques, and anesthetics have largely mitigated the pain that made root canals historically painful procedures. After applying a local anesthetic, a dentist uses a small drill to create a hole in a healthy part of the tooth. They then remove the diseased tissue inside of the tooth and clean it out. Once the dentist is happy with the condition of the tooth, they'll load the hole with materials similar to what you get with a filling.
This isn't to say the procedure is entirely painless. However, barring severe nerve damage in the tooth before the procedure, anesthetic and the precision use of dental tools shouldn't leave you with pain that's dramatically worse than when you get a filling. Also, the long-term benefit far outweighs living with the pain that comes from having an infected tooth.
Preparing for a Root Canal
Generally, a dentist has a very good idea of what's happening in a patient's mouth before they even propose a treatment plan that involves a root canal procedure. The dentist will have X-rayed the patient's teeth, and they've likely identified a spot where there's a serious infection affecting the pulp or nerve of a specific tooth. If a patient hasn't had a dental cleaning in a while, the dentist may also order one to ensure there won't be any plaque near the tooth during the process. Otherwise, preparation mostly is about finding an appropriate time for the procedure and agreeing to a treatment plan.
Expected Time for the Procedure
A dentist can almost always handle a root canal in one visit without much trouble. The procedure typically takes between 90 minutes and three hours depending on the severity of the problem and the complexity of the necessary drilling.
Local anesthetic is usually all that's necessary to deal with the immediate pain so there usually isn't a waiting period before the patient can leave the office. A notable exception would be if a patient needs a sedative for dental anxiety. In that case, they should probably have someone drive them to and from the appointment.
The Recovery Period
A dentist may prescribe antibiotics and instruct a patient to take an over-the-counter medication to manage any lingering pain. The dentist's office will schedule a follow-up appointment within a few weeks to verify there isn't an infection and that the filling is holding up.
For more information about getting a root canal, reach out to a local dental clinic.