Does getting a root canal hurt?

tl;dr: not as much as the tooth hurt before the root canal

For years I had one tooth that would, very occasionally, make a popping or clicking sound— very faint, but since it was inside my mouth I could feel it. I couldn’t figure out why so, as one does, I ignored it. Then last July, it abruptly became very sensitive to heat and cold: Toothmageddon. I went to my dentist, who referred me to an endodontist, Matthew Friedt, who told me “keep an eye on it.” It seemed to get better, so I left it alone. Then came “Toothmageddon II: The Revenge.” A couple of weeks ago, the heat sensitivity returned with a vengeance, along with the popping sound; eating anything above mouth temperature would make the tooth throb for hours. I immediately made another endodontist appointment, and yesterday was the big day.

I found a lot of contradictory and confusing information online about root canals, so I thought I’d summarize the process, at least the way my endo did it.

First, he took a couple of X-rays and confirmed, by using both heat and cold tests, which tooth was afflicted. Interestingly, the nerves that sense cold tend to be the first ones to die off, which is why I lost the cold sensitivity. The tooth was definitely heat-sensitive, and Matthew used an optical microscope to examine the tooth surface and saw a few small cracks. Once he had verified that he had the right tooth, he shot me up with plenty of lidocaine (or whatever the cool kids use for face numbing), let it percolate, and then started working.

The work phase was simple: he clamped a little metal ring on my back molar and used it to hold a dental dam and frame, which was a new experience for me. Then he drilled a hole in the top of the tooth and used a series of super-fine probes and drills to clean all the tooth-guts (that’s a technical term) out. Once he finished this phase, I got another X-ray so he could verify that everything was out. Then using the same series of probes, he filled the nerve channels in with some sort of rubber or epoxy or something, then added a cone-shaped plug that sealed the hole in the tooth and tamped the material down. That was it; I didn’t have anything stronger than topical anesthesia, and he didn’t prescribe any antibiotics or pain pills.

After I left I noticed that the entire right side of my face— all the way up to my right temple— was as numb as a steak; my jaw was super stiff from holding it open, and my neck and shoulders were tense from me tensing them. I went home, had a protein shake, took an Advil and a leftover pain pill from Toothmageddon I, and napped for a couple of hours, followed by a light dinner and some Netflix. Now I’m back to normal.

While I wouldn’t say it was fun it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, and it is nice to be able to enjoy non-room-temperature food without pain. I very highly recommend Dr. Friedt; he explained very clearly what he was going to do, then he did it efficiently and quickly (the whole process from arrival to departure took a little over 2 hours).

The More You Know™…

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1 Comment

Filed under General Stuff

One response to “Does getting a root canal hurt?

  1. Barry

    I had a root canal back in 2000, I think. Not fun by any means. I was the same; where hot or cold would set off severe pain.
    It usually takes them 3-4 tries with whatever they shoot me up with in those needles before I get really numb in the rear teeth… Again, not fun.

    I preferred the wisdom teeth extraction, where they just knocked me out. The after part is much worse with wisdom teeth though.

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