• Daniel Saffo

Are Root Canals Painful?

So it's that time. You've been told you need a root canal. Odds are you've probably heard from somewhere or someone, "root canals are extremely painful" or "I've given birth before and I'd rather do that again than have another root canal."

In today's blog, let's break down what a root canal is, why it's done, and most importantly- are they painful?

What is a root canal?

A root canal is the removal of inflamed or infected nerve tissue inside a tooth. This is followed by disinfection and shaping of the root canal chamber and root(s). The space once occupying said nerve tissue is replaced with a bio-inert substance called Gutta Percha in order to create a fluid tight seal within the tooth.

Why is a root canal performed?

Root canals are usually done when cavities or bacteria reaches the sterile nerve tissue inside a tooth. Once the bacteria has reached this sterile environment, it's only a matter of time before the patient starts to get that dreaded tooth ache. Symptoms usually include pain to hot and cold, pain to chewing, and a chronic dull ache.

Are root canals painful?

Let's break this question down into two parts: Pre-op and Post-op.


By it's very definition, a root canal is the removal of nerve tissue. The MOST IMPORTANT aspect of this procedure (and any dental procedure) is complete and profound anesthesia.

I can't tell you how many times I get patients in the chair with a dental phobia stemming from incomplete anesthesia. When it comes down to it, I believe provider experience plays a major role as numbing a patient is very technique sensitive. At New View Dental, WE DO NOT WORK ON PATIENTS WHO AREN'T NUMB!


One of the primary objectives of a root canal is cleaning and removing infected nerve tissue along the ENTIRE root canal system. Sometimes it is not possible to reach the apex of the root due to a calcified canal. Other times, a curved root can make it difficult. If a dentist were to leave infected nerve tissue behind, this can cause post-operative pain which will eventually lead to a failed root canal.

Anterior teeth usually have single roots. As you work your way towards the back of the mouth- premolars and molars- these teeth can have 2-4 roots. It's important for the operator to have a thorough understanding of tooth anatomy in order to locate and remove all canal systems. A very common cause of root canal failure and pain is a missed canal. Again, I believe provider experience is key.

If a patient is properly anesthetized, all nerve tissue is found, and the tooth is properly cleaned- any discomfort felt after a root canal is usually due to inflammation. This type of pain is very MILD and usually subsides within 2-3 days. An NSAID is typically prescribed in order to address the inflammation should it arise.

In conclusion:

Under proper conditions, root canals can be painless and is a huge service to any patient at risk of losing a tooth.

-Dr. Daniel Saffo


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