How Much Pain is Normal Following an Emergency Root Canal?

toothache image for emergency dentist blog

I went into see my dentist for an emergency root canal yesterday. I still have no idea what happened, but I woke up in the morning and was in absolute agony. I called into work and the office was kind enough to get me in for treatment right away, but I had a very difficult time in the chair. I’m not a baby. Let me be clear on that. I have a touch of dental anxiety, but I’ve had root canals on two other teeth before and came through it just fine. This time, I was gripping onto the chair so tight that my knuckles turned white. My eyes welled up with tears. I really couldn’t bear it. I even asked the dentist to stop a few times to let me collect myself. He obliged, but I could tell he was irritated with me.

I asked for pain medicine at the end of treatment and the doctor prescribed some kind of Tylenol mix, but it didn’t so much as take the edge off. I tried mixing it with ibuprofen and then ultimately begged my friend for some of the meds she got after having a hysterectomy. Those helped, but the pain still wasn’t fully gone. I still hurt today- though not to the point where I’m taking the super strong meds. I’m really upset about the whole ordeal. This root canal was nothing at all like I’ve experienced before, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because this dentist did something wrong. Did I get lucky with the first two root canals I had? Is this level of pain normal? Or, is something else going on here?



Dear Rhonda,

Things are a little different when you go in for emergency dental treatment. It sounds like maybe your first two root canals were planned. In other words, the dentist knew you had decay that was close to the pulp or you had other similar circumstances which necessitated treatment, but the tooth really hadn’t blown up yet.

When you’re able to address these things early, treatment goes much smoother. Unfortunately, when it gets to the point where you’re in pain, that nerve is already aggravated. And, that may be no fault of yours. The tooth could have been injured or had decay silently brewing. Sometimes it’s easy to predict that a tooth will have trouble, and that’s one of the reasons why regular dental care is so important, but other times trouble can sneak up on you.

Once the nerve is irritated, it’s harder to get numb and your body is more responsive to pain. The anxiety will also heighten your pain response and diminish how well the anesthetic works too. And, it can take a little longer to bounce back after a root canal.

It sounds like you’re headed in the right direction; the pain is decreasing, and that’s what doctors like to see as a sign of progress. A word of caution, though: It’s never a good idea to use someone else’s medication. Having the wrong dose or wrong thing in your system can put you at risk of an overdose or cause harmful interactions. It can also mask symptoms of serious problems. Mention what’s happening to your dentist, so he can monitor the situation. If you have a similar issue again, keep the lines of communication open. Your doctor is going to prescribe the least-potent medication he believes will be effective, but if it isn’t helping, he needs to know so he can assess the situation or prescribe something stronger (and safe) for you.

This blog is sponsored by Dr. Steve Sirin. Dr. Sirin’s Elgin dental office offers same-day emergency appointments, to help people get out of pain fast.

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