Tuesday: You notice you have a searing pain in your tooth while drinking your morning cup of hot coffee. As much as you hate to waste that precious fluid, you pour that coffee down the drain—but the pain remains. Throughout the day, you notice that whenever you chew on anything, it results in intense tooth pain. When you brush your teeth that night, you still have some tooth pain—and, your gums are swollen and tender.
Wednesday: Your dentist manages to get you in for an emergency appointment. He tells you the bad news: you need a root canal. Your response is: What exactly is a root canal, and why do I need one?
Well, your dentist explains, a root canal is needed when the pulp of a tooth has become damaged. The pulp is the soft area within the tooth. If it is damaged, bacteria and other debris accumulate and can cause infection. During a root canal, the pulp of the tooth is cleaned out and the tooth is sealed up.
He also points out that root canals have a very high success rate, meaning the fixed tooth should last a lifetime. Once it is complete, your tooth will function just like the other teeth.
Luckily (or unluckily, you think at the time), he says he can fit you in for your root canal the next day.
Thursday: You nervously arrive at the dentist’s office, after hearing every friend and relative’s horror story about their own root canal (or the root canal that their plumber’s niece’s college professor had that one time that went horribly wrong).
Your dentist starts by taking an X-ray of your tooth, to make sure there isn’t an infection in the bone to worry about.
If all looks well, he will then numb the area near the tooth—or, he might offer you another kind of anesthesia to help keep you calm. He then begins the procedure to clean out the tooth, flushing away any debris that comes out. Then, the dentist will seal up the tooth (although this might be done at a future appointment).
Thursday afternoon: You should try to keep from eating and drinking for a few hours after the procedure. Go home and relax! An ice pack against your cheek may help with the soreness and swelling.
Friday: When you wake up the next morning, you should have no more pain from that tooth—but your mouth is going to be sore. You can try an over-the-counter pain reliever, or your dentist may have prescribed something stronger. If he prescribed an antibiotic, make sure you take all of the pills as prescribed to get rid of all infection. Most people can return to work or their usual routine the day after a root canal (but who could blame you if you decided to take the day off?).
That night you should sleep with your head slightly elevated to help speed recovery. And, while you are recovering you should try to limit your smoking, or cut it out altogether—smoking means a longer recovery time.
Also, be careful of taking any drugs while you are recovering. Even a cold medication can interfere with your recovery. Check with your dentist before taking anything, even over-the-counter medication.
Saturday: Your mouth is still sore, but you have to eat. Stick to soft foods like applesauce or mashed potatoes, and try to avoid any contact with the tooth that had the root canal. As soon as possible you should return to good oral hygiene habits—brushing thoroughly twice a day and flossing at least once a day. This will increase the odds that you won’t have to have a root canal in the future, since improper brushing and flossing habits result in tooth decay, a major reason root canals have to be done.
Sunday: Your sister is moving, but you have the perfect excuse not to help: you shouldn’t be lifting anything heavy. Well, maybe a better excuse would do.
The Next Thursday—one week after your root canal: By this time, the pain and soreness in your mouth should be about gone. If it isn’t, give your dentist a call.
The Next Friday: You pour yourself a delicious cup of hot coffee and sit down to enjoy it—pain free, and knowing that you have survived the dreaded root canal.