Dentist Questions Root Canal

Why are root canals so painful?

I am a 46 year old female and I need a root canal. Everyone I talk to says root canals are very painful. Why are root canals so painful?

7 Answers

The misconception that root canals are painful stems from a time when effective dental anesthesia was not available. Today, most root canal procedures can be done painlessly, although there is typically some mild post-operative discomfort afterwards.

Sorry to hear you need a root canal but I am glad you are getting the treatment you need. If you ask enough people you will start to notice that half of them tell you that root canals are very painful and the other half of the people will tell you that they had no pain at all during their root canal and their dentist is the best. The reason for the difference is because not all teeth need root canals for the same reason. Some teeth need root canals because the nerve inside of the tooth has started to die and become necrotic for one reason or another (trauma from a few years ago, cavity that got to the nerve, etc.). People with teeth in this type of situation is usually will have sensitivity or pain (but sometimes no pain if it was over the course of a couple years). If this person goes in for a root canal the nerve, which is what sends the pain signal to the brain, is already dead. This means that when the doctor goes inside the tooth they are cleaning out the nerve that is no longer sending pain signals to the brain. The doctor is literally cleaning it up and filling up the canal. These people will tell you that they never had any pain with their root canal. If we contrast this situation with a tooth that needs a root canal because a cavity is too close to the nerve that we cannot fix it without bothering the nerve, but too far away from the nerve to cause any problems with the nerve. This means that the dentist doing the root canal is going to enter the center of the tooth and take out a nerve that is alive and still has the ability to send pain signals back to the brain. People that have gone through this situation will usually tell you root canals hurt. Finally, you can also add in the idea of perception. If people believe that the root canal will hurt (from their friends telling them it will) will be on the look out for pain and perceive it more painful.
Hope this helps.

My best to you!

William F. Scott IV, DMD
Most root canals are painless. You are numbed up like for a filling and usually feel no pain while being treated. Afterward, it can be sore or tender, but that usually settles down. Yes, some people do have pain for a variety of reasons including: waiting for the infection to be so severe that it won't get perfectly numb, so inflamed it won't get numb (hot tooth), the bite off from inflammation afterward, looking for sympathy from friends and family, looking to avoid work, waiting to start until they haven't slept in days (or nights), not taking or being able to take
anti-inflammatories or other prescriptions. Also, not finding all the canals, not getting down all the canals, complicated teeth, not following through on appointments, listening to horror stories from friends and imagining the worst, listening to friends rather than their endodontist (root canal specialist), not following directions. Being that every case is different, don't assume the worst beforehand. Perhaps see an endodontist instead of your general dentist if it is a difficult tooth or if you are more nervous that it will be painful or a problem. If pain develops, DON'T WAIT to call, it is easier to deal with the pain earlier rather than waiting for it to increase.
Root canals are not painful usually, unless the tooth is infected badly.
Root canals are not painful, but the conditions that require one are. Many times, patients remember the pain they had with their tooth, but actually it was the root canal procedure that solved it. I would recommend moving forward with your procedure with the expectation that you will have a great experience. I would recommend you see an endodontist vs. a general dentist for this procedure. We are specialists for this procedure and can make sure it is a good experience for you.

Brett E. Gilbert, D.D.S.
A root canal should NOT be painful at all. As long as you are given proper and sufficient numbing medicine beforehand, a root canal, an extraction, or any other dental procedure should be completely painless. I completed root canal procedures on 3 patients earlier this week, and they were all completely comfortable and pain-free through the entire procedure. Good anesthesia is the key. Good luck!
It is a misconception that root canals are painful. It is the symptoms on a tooth that needs a root canal can be painful, but the root canal procedure itself should be painless if you are properly anesthetized.