How Painful Is A Root Canal Procedure?

How Painful Is A Root Canal Procedure?

There are many myths surrounding this particular treatment, but how true are they?

We can almost guarantee that the words most likely to cause a reaction of horror on a patient’s face is when we have to tell them that they need to have a root canal procedure in order to save a tooth. Those who have had them before are less likely to be this worried about it as they know the reality. First timers though may only have information that they have gained from popular mythology about it.

A root canal procedure has been used as a pain benchmark for many years now, whether in films, books or daily life. Most of us will have heard variations of “I’d rather have a root canal procedure” when discussing something they don’t like. This indicates that despite the intense pain they believe they will feel, it is still better than what they especially hate.

How much truth is there to the rumours about this treatment? We let our local Ipswich dentists explain below.

The history of root canal treatment

To understand the ‘pain mythology’, it is useful to look at the historical use of this procedure. It may surprise some of you to know that rudimentary versions of it were carried out in ancient times, and archeological excavations in India and Egypt have backed up this theory. We can’t start to imagine how painful that would have been for the patients concerned.

It wasn’t really until the start of the 20th century that things started to improve. There were two main advances in dentistry, in addition to improved equipment and knowledge, that changed this from what must have been an incredibly painful experience to one that was acceptable given the fact that it saved a tooth from needing to be extracted.

The most obvious of these advances is the use of anaesthetics, and specifically local anaesthetics such as Novocain. This enabled the patient to undergo the treatment in relative comfort, also making it easier for the dentist to carry out the procedure without the patient moving around in discomfort.

The second improvement was the introduction of x-rays. While local anaesthetics may be an obvious improvement, x-rays, we believe, were equally important.  While no one fully knows why it got its painful reputation, there is a widely held belief that it may have been due to the presence of an abscess at the time of the treatment. Abscesses are not uncommon when the root canals become infected and, if undetected, would have caused intense pain if it came into contact with the dental drill.

It is for this reason that x-rays are routinely taken before a root canal procedure is carried out at the Foxhall Dental Practice. Doing so enables us to see if an abscess is present or not. If not, then the procedure can go ahead as planned. If one is present, this will be treated first and the root canal procedure delayed until you are abscess free. This eliminates the most likely scenario that would cause severe pain for the patient.

The real ‘discomfort factor’ in a root canal procedure

Given that both x-rays and local anaesthetics are used when patients need this treatment, what is the reality about any pain that might be experienced?

We won’t pretend that patients should feel overjoyed at the news that they need this treatment. Any invasive dental procedure is likely to cause some degree of discomfort. Mostly this isn’t actually pain but sensations experienced by the drilling or manual removal of infected material or pressure when fillings are securely placed. None of these cause pain but it isn’t common for patients to think that ‘any second now’ they will be in pain, as though the dental drill is going to go just that little bit too far. The reality, of course, is that even if it did then the local anaesthetic would block the pain. In addition to this, dentists undergo years of studying and practise to enable them to carry out procedures such as this, so, with the experienced team we have at our Ipswich dental clinic, you can be sure that you are in excellent hands.

Nervous patients

We know that quite a few patients are nervous about their dental visits and being told you need this particular treatment probably won’t help matters. We are always conscious about helping people who suffer from dental anxiety so that we can ensure that they receive essential treatment such as this. We are always happy to discuss treatments with you so that you know what will happen, but equally, we are happy to keep any information to the necessary minimum if you would really rather not know. Whichever the case, we always do our best to help our patients have the most comfortable experience possible.

The Foxhall Dental Practice offers both an NHS dental service as well as providing many cosmetic treatments. If you would like to make an appointment with us, you can do so by contacting our friendly reception team on 01473 258396 or by using the enquiry form on our website.