Home care after a root canal

Root Canal Therapy: After Care Instructions

Are there any special instructions to follow after root canal treatment? How should you care for your tooth if you’re getting endodontic therapy?


If you’re about to have your first root canal or aren’t exactly sure what to expect, here’s everything you need to know:


Root Canal: The Best Thing for Your Smile


Getting a root canal isn’t as intimidating as the rumors you might hear. Gentle endodontic treatment is one of the best things you can do for your mouth, especially if you’re in pain or have an abscessed tooth. In most scenarios, getting a root canal is the last option available to avoid a dental extraction.


The home care process after a root canal isn’t all that different than your typical home hygiene routine. The key is to keep your teeth clean to avoid any food or plaque accumulating around the treated tooth. With great home care, you can enjoy a healthy smile for years to come.


Investing in a root canal allows you to preserve your natural tooth for as long as possible. Even if it has a large cavity or abscess. There’s nothing as great as your real teeth (but dental implants come fairly close!) You can think of root canal treatment like a filling that extends down into the nerve chamber and root of your tooth, treating it from the inside.



Will I Hurt After Root Canal Treatment?


Root canals are performed in a way that is not supposed to hurt or cause any post-operative discomfort. At Raleigh Dental Arts we use advanced technology and equipment to ensure an efficient and gentle treatment process. Even if your tooth doesn’t hurt but you know it’s infected, delaying your treatment could increase the chances of a painful dental emergency. Being proactive about your root canal treatment will help you avoid potential toothaches, broken teeth, and facial swelling.


The recovery after a root canal is quite simple. Similar to having a large filling or crown treatment, you might want to take off the rest of the day. After all, it can take a few hours for the local anesthetic (numbing agent) to completely wear off. It’s probably best that you don’t eat anything for a while. And if you drink, take care to not accidentally spill it, since your lips may still be numb.


As the numbing agent wears off, you’ll start to be able to tell where we worked inside of your mouth. But that doesn’t mean it will feel too uncomfortable! The gums at that space could feel a little tender and you’ll be able to tell your mouth was open for a while, but that’s about it. Your tooth no longer has any nerve receptors to transfer pain.


If you’re worried about any post-operative discomfort, the best thing to do is have some over-the-counter pain reliever on hand. An anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or Motrin works best, as it minimizes swelling. If you can’t take Motrin, Tylenol can also help but it is not an anti-inflammatory. Try to eat a little something first, so that you’re not taking any medication on an empty stomach.


Most people go back to their typical routine by the next day.



Root Canals Treat Pain, Not Cause It


One of the oldest wives’ tales you’ll ever hear is that root canals are the most painful thing you’ll ever experience in a dentist’s office. That simply isn’t true. Today’s advancements in dental care eliminate the risk of invasive, painful procedures, whether it’s oral surgery or even a root canal.


Generally speaking, the biggest risk of root canal pain is having an extremely infected tooth. When there’s significant swelling in one area, it makes it more difficult to numb that space with local anesthetic. The longer you wait to treat an abscessed tooth, the more likely it is to feel uncomfortable. To reduce inflammation, we might recommend an antibiotic to bring down swelling ahead of the root canal appointment. Antibiotics won’t clear up the infection permanently, but they offer a brief reprieve and allow the anesthetic to work more effectively.


After your root canal is complete, your tooth will no longer have any active blood vessels or nerves supplying it. In other words, it won’t be able to feel or transmit any sensations like pain or sensitivity. You’ll be left with a functional and intact tooth, but it cannot feel anything. The only thing you might notice is being able to tell when pressure is applied, due to the tiny ligaments that surround the roots and hold them into place.



How to Clean Around a Root Canal Tooth


Now that your tooth has been treated with a root canal, it’s no longer “alive” or vital. However, it’s still susceptible to bacteria, acids, and the food you eat. Good oral hygiene is important to prevent decay around the tooth or its root. Otherwise, plaque can etch away at the enamel, weakening the tooth and destroying additional structure.


Make a point to brush around your tooth at least twice a day and floss around it daily. Pay particular attention along the gumlines, where plaque tends to be heaviest.


There’s no need to avoid cleaning your tooth after endodontic treatment. Typically, you can get back to your normal oral hygiene routine on the very same day. The better you clean that area, the less likely you are to develop any painful gum infections around it. Good oral hygiene is important for all of your teeth, whether they’re “alive” or not!



Managing Minor Gum Soreness (if Any)


One of the most common side effects after a root canal is sore gums or oral tissues where the local anesthetic was injected. Since a small puncture is made (as with any injection) some lingering tenderness or irritation at that location is completely normal.


The best way to manage sore gums or skin from an injection is to rinse with warm salt water to help alleviate swelling. Mix a teaspoon of table salt into an 8 oz. glass of warm water, then rinse with it gently until you’ve used it all. Repeat as needed throughout the day.


An anti-inflammatory pain reliever like Motrin (ibuprofen) is also extremely effective when taken as directed. Any lingering tenderness should go away within a couple of days.


What About a Sore Jaw?


The second most common side-effect of root canal treatment is a sore jaw from having your mouth open for a long period of time. By working with an experienced dentist who has advanced technology on hand, you can minimize your treatment length. Our Raleigh dentists use a comfortable prop to rest your teeth on, reducing the strain on your jaw from holding your mouth open.


If you do have any soreness, we recommend taking Motrin and applying a warm or cold compress to the side of your TMJ for 20 minutes at a time. For best results, alternate the cold and warm compresses throughout the first day, then stick to cool compresses thereafter. You really shouldn’t need them for more than a day or two at most.


Caring for a Temporary Crown


It’s fairly common to place a temporary dental crown on your root canal-treated tooth. Particularly if the crown is being made at our lab. The only exception would be if we’re fitting you with a CEREC same-day dental crown.


Temporary crowns require a bit of carefulness when it comes to eating with or cleaning around them. Since they’re only meant to wear for a short timeframe, they are bonded on with weaker cement and the edges tend to be a bit bulkier to clean around.


To prevent your temporary crown from coming off, try to avoid chewing anything too sticky or hard on that side of your mouth. You’ll only need to wear the temporary for a couple of weeks, so it won’t be too difficult to manage. Once your permanent crown is bonded in place, you can go back to your normal diet.


Always be careful when you’re flossing around a temporary crown. Normally, flossing does not pull out dental work and it’s the lack of flossing that puts crowns at risk. But with a temporary crown, you need to be careful that the floss doesn’t catch on anything. Otherwise, when you lift it out of the space, it could bring the temporary crown with it. The best thing to do is floss that space with small side-to-side (vs. up and down) motions, then pull the strand out through the side instead of back up and out.


If You Experience Pain, Call a Dentist


Although rare, if you experience any moderate to severe pain after root canal treatment, be sure to call our Raleigh dentist. Side effects from endodontic therapy are extremely uncommon. But if you’re unable to eat or go to work because of any discomfort, let us know immediately. Raleigh Dental Arts is happy to assist you as quickly as possible.


By following your home-care instructions, your root canal treatment can be a pleasant and comfortable experience. After your therapy, you can enjoy a healthier smile in the years ahead.



Tarun Agarwal

Dr. Tarun Agarwal, DDS is considered one of the top dentists in the country. He is a recognized speaker, author, and dental leader. He has been featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and News 14 Carolina. Dr. Agarwal has been awarded '40 under 40' Business Leaders by the Triangle Business Journal. He is regularly invited to teach other dentists around the world and recently built a training center within the practice dedicated to sharing his expertise. Most importantly he is a loving husband and dedicated father of three wonderful children. His biggest accolade was being voted 'Best Dad in the World' by 2 of his 3 kids.