Tell me about having a root canal

A toothache Saturday has turned into the left side of my face being swollen today. Yesterday, a call to my dentist got me scrips for hydrocodone and penicillin, and the comment “from what you’re telling me, it sounds like you could be ready for a root canal.”

My then-wife had one in 2000 or so, but I really don’t remember her telling me what it was like except that she was drugged up for what felt like days. Can anybody else recount what it was like?

To be sure I’m not misinterpreted: I’m not looking for medical advice, just personal accounts of what having a root canal is like.

I had one several years ago. It wasn’t nearly as bad as people say it is. Just bring along an mp3 player and let the dentists do what needs to be done. My biggest problem during the procedure was being stuck in a chair for two hours.

YMMV, of course.

Had the beginning of a root canal on Friday. It was a big relief. Having a throbbing pain go away is a good thing.

The endodontist drilled down through an existing crown to ream out the dead pulp with little files. When the pulp is dead and gone, there’s no nerve left, so the tooth itself can’t hurt. The area around it can be sore from the swelling.

I’m also on antibiotics and swishing my mouth with salt water, to help clear out the open tooth. Well, it was packed with sponge, but I think that came out overnight. There was a little residual discomfort the first day, but nothing that Tylenol couldn’t handle.

I’m glad it waited until January. In January my dental insurance reboots. This will soak up most of the maximum for the year.

I’ll agree that they aren’t as bad as their reputation but still not pleasant. I’ve had a several and the ones by an endodontist seemed to go better than the ones by a general dentists so if you have an option, go for the specialist.

I’ve had several root canals, and the most discomfort was from the injection of anesthetic, which wasn’t much discomfort at all.

An ex-BF’s Mom had one while we were dating. Apparently the actual procedure on the tooth did not bother her at all, but having her jaw open that long caused problems…

I’ve had two and my advice is get the gas so you are less aware of what is going on. I do think they’re as bad as they’re made out to be. It isn’t from the pain; it is the grinding, the pressure on the jaw, and the knowledge of what is being done. The anesthetic shot is the least of it, IMO. Oh, and the shot to the wallet (I have no dental ins.) isn’t the best feeling, either. I’m paying $$$$ for them to torture me? I know it would be cheaper to get it pulled, but I like my teeth and want to keep them.

I hate, hate, hate them! Most people don’t have as big of a problem as I do, so don’t get scared from what I’ve said.

Had a root canal about five years ago. Was nowhere near as bad as people say it was. Worst part of it was having to go back multiple times-- I think I went back a total of four times from start to finish (putting a crown over it). Personally, I like to just “get it over with” in as few trips as possible.

Actually, that wasn’t the worst part of it: the last visit, the novocaine shot grazed the nerve. Not only one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt, the right side of my tongue and mouth was numb for a couple of months. I think I got out lucky; I’ve read accounts from people who had similar experiences, only their numbness NEVER went away. I can’t imagine how awful that must be; I hated it within 24 hours, and it was psychologically insane waiting weeks hoping I would get feeling back.

To this day, five years later, I still don’t think everything came back to the way it was before; every once in a while, I can still feel that tingle in my tongue.

Anyway, that’s not a hazard with root canals, that’s a hazard with any dentistry involving what is, unavoidably, a blind stab in the back of your mouth near a really important nerve.


I’ve had two. As background: I have very hard-to-numb teeth, and consequently pretty severe dental phobia.

So the first anecdote will not be reassuring, but I assume you want truth not just the happy stories. The second one was much much MUCH easier.


I’d had a crown done on one tooth and though the dentist sort of laughed at me, he prescribed a Valium to take beforehand. I don’t know that the Valium did a damn thing (I certainly didn’t feel it working) but I got through the crown prep fairly “easily”.

So… when that same tooth needed a root canal, I thought I’d be fine. And didn’t take anything beforehand.

As I found with the first novocaine injection (hurt like MOTHERFUCKING HELL), this was a strategic error. I was quivering / shaking and the endodontist offered me a Dalmane if I could phone someone to drive me home afterward. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t dial the phone.

The rest of the process was a study in pain and fear, with the endodontist periodically discovering a new spot that wasn’t numb.

Somehow, I got through it. It didn’t solve the problem, of course, and I had the tooth extracted a few months later.

I had a different primary dentist. First time I saw her, I said “severe phobia, need horse tranks or a sledgehammer to the head”. She said “how about Halcion and nitrous oxide?”. The 3 crowns and 2 fillings she did in that first halcion/N2O session… pain free. I was in the chair for 5 hours and would have been happy to be there longer. They could have cut my toes off and I’d have been delighted. At one point I heard them saying that one tooth had more decay than they thought… I mimed (with closed eyes) writing with a pen… pen/tablet were produced, and I wrote “can you fix it today”. They laughed… and confirmed permission with Typo Knig anyway because I wasn’t necessarily competent to make such decisions.

Turns out, one of those same teeth needed a root canal.

I went to a different endodontist - who also offered nitrous. At the initial visit I mentioned using Halcion. He looked a bit surprised, didn’t think I needed it but didn’t mind if I used it. I assured him “you do NOT want me sober!”. And really, he didn’t… the first endodontist may well have been perfectly competent but my stress and pain level did NOT help him!

So I took the Halcion, got a ride over there, they got me hooked up to nitrous… and I vaguely recall at one point feeling something that sort of was thinking about becoming painful but then didn’t… and the next thing I knew, I was done.

Then of course I had to go home and help conduct a guinea pig funeral while I was listing a few degrees off vertical… but the root canal was done!

I loooooooves me some pharmaceutical help!

If you don’t have any issues with numbing / anxiety, I expect you’ll be fine. However, I do encourage you to use whatever chemical assistance they offer - at the very least, time will pass faster!

I’m super-super-super (extremely) dental phobic and they’re not that big a deal. (I’ve had I think four.)

Make sure you’re completely numbed, bring your own tunes, and be prepared for a little discomfort after (ibuprofen discomfort, not heavy prescription pharmaceuticals discomfort).

Most significant pain is the blow to the wallet.

I had one and didn’t have any substantial pain or other ugly surprises. It was obvious during the procedure that it was more involved than a filling, but the consequence for me was only that it took more time.

I’m hard to freeze like Mama Zappa, and I had finally had enough* and started getting sedation dentistry. Last Friday I had a crown and two fillings done with just nitrous, and that wasn’t too bad, but sedation is still better - you go to sleep, you wake up, you’re done. I had sedation for my root canal, and I still tried to grab the tools at one point when I felt a sharp pain. I have ZERO interest in experiencing that without being sedated. For the record, that root canal has technically failed - I still have sensation in that tooth, but it’s bearable now. Apparently root canals have a 5% failure rate.

*My dentist moved away, and a new graduate took his place. He couldn’t get my sensitive tooth frozen enough - he kept jabbing and jabbing and jabbing, and I could see the fear in his eyes. That was my turning point.

I’ve had two in the past couple years, and it’s just not a big deal, pain-wise (well, it left my wallet with an empty, aching feeling).

Depending on the location of the tooth, the injection of anaesthetic may be painful - some sites are more sensitive than others. If your dentist has a deft hand, even this is minimal, and the discomfort won’t be there after the anaesthetic wears off. I did not need any pain medication after the procedure.

Be prepared to hear a lot of noise as the dentist opens up the tooth, and again when he or she grinds the tooth down in preparation for a crown (if you’re getting a crown). You’ll also smell the pulverized tooth material. It’s not particularly unpleasant, but it’s distinctive. You may also hear some scraping as the dentist reams out the pulp from the tooth.

The biggest problem for me was holding my mouth open for the procedure. Remember to ask your dentist to stick a mouth prop in there so you can relax your jaw a bit. If the tooth is going to be crowned, you’ll have a temporary crown while the permanent one is being fabricated. This temp can feel odd, but it’s not painful.

I had pretty major trouble with pain from inflammation with mine. It didn’t help that I was out of town and so was my dentist - it hurt for about a week and that’s when I found out that codeine makes me itch.

I’ve had two. One was emergency when the nerve in my tooth suddenly died. The pain in the tooth was agonizing. The didn’t have to “remove” the nerve – it dripped out. Half my face was swollen with infection. It was a pretty horrible experience, but not the fault of the endodontist. I am normally hard to numb, and a nervous patient (adrenaline pumping through my system), and infection can interfere with local anathetic. All this conspired that the local wore off halfway through the procedure. They had to give me another shot, which hurt, a lot, and I scared a lot of patients screaming.

The second one was scheduled and not under emergency circumstances, with the same endodontist – the staff remembered me quite distinctly. They gave me 4 shots of local spaced 10 minutes apart, as well as nitrous. Other than my jaw getting tired because the procedure takes a while, it was no worse than a regular filling.

My advice is don’t let the pain/inflammation get to emergency levels.

I’ve had two also, and being in the chair for so long was worse than the pain. The dentist had a visor to show you a movie while he worked. I chose “Apocalypse” for one, and that was more painful than the procedure. :o (Mouth open for the procedure smiley)

I’ve had two also. Many people told me that needing the root canal was worse than actually having the root canal. I found that to be true.

For one of them, I had minor discomfort from residual inflammation for about two weeks afterward but it was no big deal.

I’m just finishing up this process myself. What’s with the multiple trips? I’d heard it takes one or two but I’m on something like my fifth one (this morning) and I just did the impression for the permanent crown.

Of course, I’ll probably figure out how common it is when, during my next appointment to fit the permanent crown, they start on my next one…

Honestly, while I’ve only had one, my root canal was more pleasant than just about all my regular fillings. I almost always feel some kind of pain during fillings. I don’t know if it’s because they are more aggressive with the anesthetic for root canals or what, but I didn’t feel a thing.

But then again, prior to the procedure, the pain in my tooth was almost unbearable, so I suppose anything less would have been a relief.

I’ve had nine root canals. Root canals don’t hurt. The pain BEFORE the root canal is what people are talking about.

First the dentist will give you novocaine. This is the best part, the pain stops :slight_smile:

Then he will drill and he goes into the tooth and removes all the pulp and nerves from the tooth’s root. Depending on the tooth you can have one root or four roots. If you feel anything, tell the dentist. One time my dentist had to shoot novacaine, into the canal.

Then he takes a little file and he cleans out the pulp and nerve. You’ll here a slight squeek and you’ll feel it but no pain. Then he seals the tooth up.

You have to come back in a week. You may or may not get antibiotics.

Then on visit two, he shoots you with novocaine again and he he goes back to the tooth and re-drills. He then uses the file and cleans out the roots of the tooth again. A really badly infected tooth may require this step twice. But usually not.

Then comes the worst part. No it doesn’t hurt. He has to make a mold for your crown. He takes some substance, which is like modeling clay and puts it in your mouth (yech). He then tells you to clamp down and bite for FIVE minutes. (again YECH!!!) Then he takes the clay out and send it to the lab for your crown model.

It’s very important at this stage to talk to your dentist about the color of the crown, unless your teeth are white. Remember the crowns do NOT discolor. I had my first root canal in 1997 and today it’s very obvious which teeth are crowns. There still very white. So eventually even though there’s nothing wrong with the teeth, I’ll have to get my teeth whitened or my crowns replaced.

Then once again, Mr Dentist reseals up the root canal and you come back in a week

Then the dentist will novocaine you again and drill the shape the remainder of the tooth for the final fitting. He pops the crown on and has you bite and makes sure the crown fits. He may do minor adjustments to the crown. They should be very minor. If he makes any major adjustment to that crown, tell him you want a new crown. A minor adjustment is fine, but a major means the dentist screwed up.

Then when that is done he pops off the crown and puts permenent cement on. Then he pops the crown back on and it takes a few minutes. Then he flosses off the excess cement and your new tooth is good to go.

A few things to remember. First of all a porcelain (white) crown is a lot and I mean a LOT tougher than your tooth. So it’s likely the tooth directly above it, especially if it’s a molar, will also need attention, because the porcelain crown will wear the tooth down a lot faster.

A gold crown doesn’t do this. But obviously you don’t want that if you can see it. But I would highly recommend a gold crown for a molor. It’ll cost more but save you in the long run.

A root canal also can fail. There’s no guarantee. I had two of mine fail within a year. The other seven have held up over ten years. So you don’t know.

Now is the time to get a dentist that will treat your “whole mouth.” If you have bad teeth and bad gums and are just going to wind up in dentures anyway, you don’t want to be putting good money after bad.

A root canal is worth it but because it’s costly you have to think of things like this