Root Canal Recovery Time: Aftercare, Timeline & Tips

root canal treatment using the Rubber Dam system

How long should you give yourself for an average root canal recovery time? Do you need to take several days off from work or school before you get back to your normal routine? Unfortunately, root canals have a really bad reputation for being one of these horror treatments in dentistry. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. Root canal treatment provides effective pain relief, prevents recurring toothaches, and most importantly, helps you save your smile. It’s usually one of the last lines of defense that your dentist has to avoid extracting the tooth altogether and have to place a bridge or dental implant.

How Long Should A Root Canal Recovery Take?

Typically, you don’t need more than 1 day to “recover” from a root canal. Just like getting other routine dental treatment—like a filling or a crown—you don’t have to plan around it like you would a surgery. Root canal recovery isn’t like having wisdom teeth removed or getting your appendix taken out. It’s a straightforward restorative treatment that only takes about an hour and a half to complete in the dentist’s office. The longest recovery aspect of getting a root canal is waiting for the local anesthetic (numbing medication) to completely wear off. After that, it’s back to business as usual! The anesthetic takes longer to go away than the actual length of your root canal procedure, so you can expect to need at least 2-3 more hours of “recovery” before the numbing effects are completely gone. [1]

How Long Does Anesthesia Last?

Everyone responds to local anesthesia differently. That’s the medication your dentist injects next to your tooth, to numb the nerves in that area, preventing any discomfort. How long it lasts also depends on the type of local anesthetic that your dentist is using. Some people stay numb for about two hours. Others may have four hours or more where their mouth feels numb or tingly. Rarely does it ever last more than five hours or so.

 What about sedation or general anesthesia? If you’re one of those people who want to tune out everything around you and feel like you’re taking a nap during your root canal, you can expect to feel drowsy for at least a few hours afterward. Except for nitrous oxide sedation, which is light and reverses quickly, so you don’t need anyone else to drive you home. But deeper medications like oral sedation or IV anesthesia require bringing a designated driver to your appointment!

The Root Canal Treatment Process

Getting a root canal requires several different steps, all rolled into one appointment. If you’re wondering why a root canal procedure can take over an hour from start to finish, here’s the step-by-step process that your dentist needs to complete before your treatment is considered a success:

Step 1: Local Anesthesia

You’ll probably think this is the most important step!  Your dentist will rub a little numbing gel inside of your mouth, then inject a local anesthetic to completely numb up the tooth that’s being treated. That way you won’t need to feel anything more than a little pressure. If you do experience any discomfort, be sure to let your dentist know. Severe inflammation and swelling interfere with the effectiveness of your anesthetic, so you might need an antibiotic beforehand.[2]

Step 2: Open Up the Tooth

Your dentist will use a special tool to open up the tooth and access the nerve canal inside of it. If there are any damaged/broken/decayed areas, those will also be removed at this time.

Step 3: Clean Out the Nerve Canals

This is the most important step in the entire root canal treatment process. Every piece of the tooth’s nerve will need to be removed from inside the tooth. There will be pulp tissue in the crown portion as well as nerves that reach through the length of each of the roots. These tissues are what feel pain. When they’re abscessed or traumatized, your tooth will die or can experience severe discomfort. Complete nerve removal is an absolute must to put a stop to your toothaches. Your dentist will then clean/sanitize/medicate the chambers to target any residual bacteria.

Step 4: Fill the Nerve Canals

Now that all of the nerve chambers are completely empty, you have to seal them off to prevent any bacteria or infection from working their way back inside the tooth. For that reason, your dentist will use special filling material (such as gutta percha) to fill in and seal off the entire hollow chamber. This includes filling the canals through the length of the roots, up to the tip of each one. At this point your tooth won’t be able to fill anything, so inserting the material into the tooth isn’t uncomfortable whatsoever.

Step 5: Place a Temporary Restoration

After a root canal procedure, the tooth isn’t “alive” like its neighboring teeth. Your non-vital tooth will be a lot more prone to chipping or wear because the enamel will start to become fairly brittle. That’s why almost every tooth that gets a root canal will also need to have a permanent, protective crown placed over the top of it. But on the date of your actual endodontic procedure, your dentist will only place a temporary filling or crown. They’ll need to take an impression for the lab so that a high-quality permanent one can be designed to match your smile.[3]

How To Manage Pain After A Root Canal

During your root canal recovery time, can you expect to feel any pain or discomfort? Fortunately, your tooth will no longer have any nerve endings feeding it or allowing painful stimuli. They’re completely removed and sealed off. So, all of that tooth pain you felt before your root canal—because of any infection or damage to the nerve—isn’t there anymore.

All of that being said, you might still have some minor discomfort after getting a root canal. But just to make it clear, it’s not the root canal or your tooth’s nerve that’s hurting. What it is, is muscle soreness from having your mouth propped open or tenderness where any local anesthetic was injected. Sometimes the gums can be sore if your dentist prepped for a crown that day, too.[4]

The only things you’ll usually need on hand after getting a root canal are an over-the-counter pain reliever (Motrin or ibuprofen is best) and a warm salt water rinse.

What Foods To Eat

Unlike an oral surgery or tooth extraction, you don’t have the same dietary restrictions after a root canal. But there are still some foods you’ll need to avoid and limit chewing on that side of your mouth. Why? Because you’ll probably be wearing a temporary dental crown for the next two weeks, while the permanent one is being crafted in the lab. If you don’t have a crown, the tooth will have a buildup and large temporary filling in it. Neither one can withstand the heavy biting or chewing that a healthy tooth can. 

Until you get your permanent crown, make sure you’re not eating any super hard, crunchy, or sticky foods. If you’re eating something with a bit firmer texture, it’s probably best to avoid chewing on the side of your mouth with the root canal at all.

Thankfully, after your permanent crown is bonded in place, you can go back to eating whatever you want! Here is a list of 21 post-root canal treatment safe foods.

Things To Avoid Post Root Canal

Along with sticky, hard, and crunchy food, you probably need to avoid chewing any gum or aggressively flossing around your temporary crown. Temporary “caps” are not as firmly attached to the tooth as a permanent crown will be. They’re made to be able to come off easily so that your dentist can put the custom version on your tooth a couple of weeks later. In other words, treat your crown with care.

What about exercise and going back to work? You don’t have to wait on those at all. As long as you feel fine, you’re good to go.

Make sure you wait until the local anesthetic wears off before you eat anything. Otherwise, you run the risk of accidentally chewing on your lips or cheeks, which can significantly add to your root canal recovery time. 

Root Canal Therapy Aftercare 

Caring for your mouth after a root canal is no different than your everyday oral hygiene routine, with one exception. The first week or two when you’re wearing your temporary crown, you need to be extremely careful about flossing that tooth. Using a water flosser is totally fine, but you don’t want to pull floss “up and out” from between the teeth, because you run the risk of pulling the temporary crown off. But you can floss into the gumlines, then pull it out through the side. For that reason, floss picks are a no-no. Fortunately, once your permanent crown is in place you can go back to flossing normally.

If your mouth is sore, go ahead and take some Motrin to help with the muscle tension or tenderness. And if your dentist already had you on antibiotics because of a severe abscess before your root canal treatment, continue to take your medication as directed until you complete the entire prescription.

Root Canal Treatment Recovery

Root canal recovery time is easier than you thought. Just be gentle with your temporary crown, expect some minor soreness in your jaw or from the injection, but rest assured that the source of your toothaches is gone once and for all. You won’t need to take any time off from work or school to recover. Once all of the numbing medication wears off, you’ll be good to go.

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