Dental MythBuster #3 – Root Canals Hurt!

One very common dental myth that I encounter frequently in private practice in Orange, CT is the notion that root canals hurt.  If you even mention the word “root canal” to someone they will often shudder with fear.  This is one dental myth that does not seem to die, and as a dentist, it really strikes a nerve with me (pun intended).  To see the degree to which this root canal myth is propagated, watch this video:

President Obama’s reference to a root canal is at the 38 second mark.  This dental myth transcends politics.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Whig, Libertartian, or other party affiliation.  If the President of the United States maligns root canals, you are inclined to believe that root canals are undesirable and are to be avoided at all costs!

Why Teeth Need Root Canals

Root Canal Picture

Root Canal Picture. Courtesy of the American Association of Endodontists.

In my personal experience as a dentist in Orange, CT, over 90% of the time a patient needs a root canal it is due to dental decay (a.k.a. cavities).  In these cases, the bacteria from the decay enter the nerve of the tooth, resulting in pain for the patient.  This should be very intuitive: you have live nerve tissue that is normally sequestered from the outside environment which is now suddenly exposed to nasty bacteria.  Of course it is going to hurt! The other teeth needing root canals are primarily due to other factors such as trauma, cracking, and resorption.

Why Patients Associate Pain with Root Canals

Woman with a toothache needs a root canal

A woman in pain needing a root canal. She will associate this pain with the actual root canal procedure.

This scenario plays out fairly frequently.  A patient calls our office with extreme tooth pain.  The pain is often described as “unbearable” or “the worst pain I’ve ever had” or sometimes even “worse than childbirth.”  An x-ray is taken and I perform a limited exam. I observe dental decay into the nerve of their tooth.  I discuss the findings with the patient and recommend a root canal. The patient consents.

I place topical anesthetic over the injection site and assure the patient that the pain will soon be gone. I then administer the local anesthetic with the patient feeling little to no sensation of the needle.  Within just a few minutes, they are profoundly numb, and their pain is gone!  I then perform the root canal procedure, removing the bacteria in the tooth, and then filling the roots of the tooth.  The procedure now done, the patient goes home, the numbing wears off, and the pain is still gone.  And it is gone for good and they still have their tooth!

Years later, the patient will then recount his/her experience, and say:

Yeah, I had a root canal at the dentist. It was the worst pain I have ever experienced!

This happens all too often. The patient confuses the pain that caused him to need the root canal with the pain (or lack therof) of the procedure.  And every person who listens to this story then thinks that root canals hurt.  And thus, the myth lives on!

So remember:

  • Root canals do not cause pain, they relieve it.
  • Root canals allow you to keep a very compromised tooth.
  • There are no substitutes for your own natural teeth.

If you’re still scared after all this, you can always be sedated for the procedure. But we hope we’ve busted this myth and eliminated this fear.


  1. That Obama video is very funny. I had the same experience with a root canal, and I did always associate pain and rooot canals. Very interesting.

  2. I was totally scared to have a root canal done but this has taken the edge off my worries. I will let you know how it turns out!

  3. Had a root canal, was brilliant and relieved all the pain I was having. Having 2 more soon.

  4. Brendan and Jason,

    I’m glad both of you had positive experiences like you describe. I had 3 patients this week come in with excruciating pain, we do the root canal, and then 24 hours later they are back to normal. I’ll add you two to the list as well!

    Nicholas Calcaterra DDS

  5. Kristina says

    I’m having a root canal done in 12 hours. I’m feeling better about it now though… Was having minor panic attacks thinking about it all day…

  6. April Vazquez says

    I just had a root canal yesterday & the pain was unbearable! Is it pssible that the dentist injected the anesthetic in the wrong area? As soon as he started the root canal, I could feel the tool he was using hit the nerve. It felt like electricity going through my tooth! I told him what I was feeling & he did a few more injections but I continued to feel excruciating pain throughout the entire procedure. I was sweating & my heart was pounding so hard. It really was torture & I dread going back for round 2 (crown) next week. Do you think I should try going somewhere else or is it not his fault that the pain was so bad? I have to say that it was well worth it because even though my jaw is stiff/sore from the injections, my tooth feels great & is pain-free.

    • April,
      Some teeth are very difficult to achieve 100% numbness. If I had to guess this was a lower molar (a lower back tooth). Those can be especially tricky. It is not that the dentist injected the wrong area, it is likely that there was an extra nerve in a different anatomical area. If you have no more pain, then the crown should be a piece of cake. The nerve in the tooth is now gone so the dentist will only need to numb the gums. Note that this advice is based solely upon your description; if you left out other details my assessment may not be accurate. Ask your dentist for clarification.

    • I had to add to this. I have just had the exact same experience and googled if it was normal. I had lost half my rear bottom molar and was told it wouldn’t hurt. Instead, it was the most intense and prolonged torture I have ever had to endure. The electricity comparision is spot on. It felt like chewing aluminium foil x 1000, sent pulses of tingling pain up my jaw line and went on for an hour. My shirt was soaked through with sweat and on several occasions my whole head violently threw backwards when he hit the nerve. I have never been scared of dentists, in fact I’ve never had a bad experience. I never want to hear the words “you need a root canal” again 🙁

      • Leigh,
        I am sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience. Did you not ask for more local anesthetic to be administered?

        • I felt better reading the above article and now much worse reading the last two posts. Just got told i need a root canal in my lower molar and might be having a 3rd panic attack after reading those experiences.

      • Anasthestia says

        I had topical and several numbing injections yesterday, March 20, 2017. I have no infection in my molar. My dentist Says I need it so he can put a crown on it. I am not a whiny…but, teeth, jeez. I’ve had other surgeries with major recovery and pain.handled…
        But this…
        I cried. Because I still felt my tooth pain, as in, I felt like a sewing needle was going down left side of my tooth when he asked if I felt cold…….after several..SEVERAL
        numbing injections …9, I think…10…
        I am supposed to go back Friday with Ativan X 2…(night before, and, 1 hour before apptmt) if pre dose night before does nothing I am cancelling apptmt and not stressing like I have been for three weeks now…
        And moving forward in another direction with a good friend’s help..

  7. Yeah, my root canal I had last year, wonderful. I didn’t have an appointment, the lady on the phone told me they didn’t have a space open for me for months, I was desperate and went in to just wait to see if they could fit me in somewhere, and just spontaneously started weeping in pain at the dentists office in the waiting room. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I felt so embarrassed, but I that root canal I had shortly after was heavenly. Everyone had made me scared of them , but seriously a wonderful relief of my pain. I was pregnant and yes the dental pain was much worse than childbirth.

    • Y.R.G.,

      Your post proves my point exactly; you had agonizing pain and the root canal relieved it! Spread the word that root canals don’t cause pain – they relieve it!

      • Laurie Biswell says

        hi, been reading your blog searching for some information after a third attempt at a root canal. I feel bad for my dentist because he has hit the tirfecta in me. It is a lower back tooth #30. I have red hair and the tooth was infected. First time, tried, thought too much infection gave me antibiotics (by the way did great on an upper tooth, didn’t even need pain med with the upper one) second attempt we tried even though the special stuff meant to numb bone wasn’t in. It was able to numb a little but when the drill hit no go. We waited about 5 days when the other anathesia ( for bone?) came in. NOw I just got back from torture, we were able to go further but couldn’t finish because it wore off. I felt like confessing to sins I never would commit just to stop the pain. He decided to put some medicine in and temp fill like he did for the second one and try again in a week. He also told me if the anethesia didn’t work I would have to be put out and referred somewhere else. I can’t take the pain anymore and was so looking forward to a root canal fixing it like it did for my upper tooth. What can I do, I need the pain to be gone, but I can’t take the pain. I feel like if I knew National Secrets I would give them up. I handle four teeth being pulled at one time and a root canal on upper tooth, this is the worse and it scares me I can’t get numb to get r done. Any suggestions?

        • Laurie,

          That is unfortunate. It sounds like your dentist has tried everything in his her proverbial toolbox to help you but with no avail. And you are right – you are the trifecta!

          I can give you two ideas. First, getting another dentist – possibly an endodontist – to attempt to do the root canal might work. Sometimes a different set of hands and a different approach with different injection techniques can work.

          The only other idea is to have an anesthesiologist brought in to sedate you. In the U.S., there are special anesthesiologists that do this.

          Good luck.

  8. hi i had a absess above my tooth ( next to my front tooth) my dentist has said he will attempt a root canal if he cant do it he will refer me to a hospital for one. but i may need it extracting! this has me seriously worried as its on show when i smile! ive never had any problems with this tooth till 5 days ago when a absess appeard, ouch! please tell me that it wont need extracting! thank you

    • Louise,
      This is a situation in which I would need to see the x-ray and perform a thorough exam to give you a more accurate answer. In general, most teeth can be saved with a root canal, but not all. Sometimes teeth are so badly broken down or get recurrent infections that root canals are not successful. But without more information, I really can’t say.

  9. im so scared to get a root canal but my teeth are getting worse im terrified! but im trying to put on my big girl panties and get it done! your explanation is extremely helpful thank you

  10. Hello!
    I am going in for a root canal in a couple of days. Its an upper tooth, and I am so nervous. I have had nice teeth so this is very foreign to me. The need for the root canal is from possible trauma from grinding my teeth. I will always wear my night guard, lesson learned!
    Does the novacaine injection hurt??? Will the doctor numb the heck out of it so I won’t feel anything????

    • The injections for upper teeth are really not that bad. Ask your dentist if he/she can use topical anesthesia over the gums – this will numb the area so you feel less of the shot. Usually I can make it so the patient feels almost nothing when I have to numb an upper tooth. Also, after the tooth is numb on top, you should not feel any part of the root canal procedure.

  11. The filling on my lower molar came off & my dentist said that he needed to do a root canal.
    There was no pain before the root canal.
    There was a little pain during the root canal. The dentist did the post & core after he finished the root canal.
    But after the root canal & post & core, after the anesthesia started to wear off, I started to experience pain.
    I was told by the dental assistant that it is normal to experience pain after the root canal & post & core, when the anesthesia wears off. Is that the experience of your patients?

    • That is totally normal. In my experience, it happens about 10 to 15% of the time. Prolonged and extreme pain that lasts several days is likely not normal.

      • So I have a huge fear of going to the dentist but I need a few root canals and extractions. The few that need help first are decaid and broke to the gum line I also have tmj so I have serious pain. How bad will it huurt to have the work done

      • I had a root canal 6 days ago and I’m in severe pain still! It actually gets worse every day. I’ve been doing round the clock advil as well. I called back dentist on the 4th day after and he said it was normal and if still in pain by Monday he’d prescribe me an antibiotic. Right lower back molar. Also wondering if it’s normal to have part of an old silver filling left on that tooth? I thought the dentist removes the old filling for root canal? Did I mention I went to a dental school to have it done? Lol!

        • Skye,
          You can have some degree of pain after a root canal. But is rare for it to be worse. I wasn’t there, but I suspect that because it was done at a dental school, the entire procedure was not completed in that one visit. That is the most likely explanation.

  12. I just came back from the dentist and he told me I need a root canal, I am so scared! I know I was having real bad pain before but now it stopped. However, the dentist took my x-rays today and told me I do need a root canal on my lower tooth and it’s going to take 90 minutes? WOW? really? I just want to know if it hurts.

  13. I just had a root canal done about an hour ago. I had an old amalgam that came out, and took some of my tooth with it due to decay. It was also a lower molar #30. I grind my teeth while I sleep, and I think that has made them very brittle, and is also wearing off my enamel slowly too, I may need a suggestion on this…Anyhow.
    I get anxiety bad whenever I go to the Dentist like most people, especially about a root canal. The procedure was harmless. The topical really quelled any pain from the needle, and before you know it, my tooth was fixed. Still no pain, we’ll see whenever the numbing goes away, but in any case, you get antibiotics and pain relievers just in case.
    Absolutely nothing to worry about. These guys are professionals, and thousands of people get this procedure everyday. Ultimately we all will experience things with our teeth far worse than root canal due to age, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

    • Thank you both for writing me back. It has eased me a bit. My anxiety isn’t as bad as it was a few days ago. My appointment isn’t until Nov. 11th so I keep thinking about it. ( A little extreme I know.) All your points are valid and I hope it’s not as bad as I keep making it out to be. Thank you Dr. Nicholas and Seth:)

  14. Hey,

    So I have excruciating pain in tooth #30 my dentist keeps saying I need a root canal but I am absolutely terrified of the procedure. I jump during filings and cleanings…as a child I had to take volumes to be seen at the dentist. However the pain in my tooth is so bad it rings to my ear. Is it possible to be out to sleep for this procedure?

    • KLC,
      Keep in mind that you don’t have to do the root canal. You can have the tooth extracted instead. As a dentist, I like to save teeth when possible, but sometimes the patient wishes for extraction, and I oblige.
      Very few dentists have the training to sedate patients for that type of procedure. Is it possible? Yes. But you will have to search long and hard to find a dentist who can do that. If you lived in Connecticut, I would be happy to do it for you!

  15. I had a root canal performed back in 2008. I was horrified, just from hearing different stories on the procedure itself. I was very scared. To my surprise. I had no pain or anything after the procedure. Everything went smoothly. Until this day my root canal is fine. Maybe root canals are over rated as far as the stories you here. Or maybe I had a good dentist. Who knows.

  16. I had a filling fall out and my dentist recommended a root canal. No pain prior. Only sensitive too hot/cold. The same day the anesthesia wore off from my root canal procedure, I was in terrible pain. I cannot bite down, my gum is sore and I have throbbing, persistent pain. Going on day 5 after procedure. Taking Tylenol/Motrin every 6 hrs and does not relieve any pain. Also applying ice pack. This is why next time my dentist recommends a root canal, I will more than likely opt out for an extraction. I would like to add I have had two teeth extracted and cannot remember either being this painful.

  17. on a scale 1-10 how baddoes it hurt

  18. The first procedure I ever had at the dentist was a surgical removal of a tooth followed by an implant… the thought of a titanium screw getting drilled in was unnerving and to add to the anxiety… there were people coming up with horror stories… but to my surprise.. it wasn’t bad at all… in fact the needle I was panicking about was barely anything… having said all of this… if I’m ever told I need a root canal… I think I’m going to sit in the chair and howl… 😛 I’ve had so many friends talking about how painful it is… apparently the most painful procedure… so is an implant more painful or root canal…?

    • A root canal vs. an implant – both procedures should give you no pain during and only minimal pain afterwards. However, many root canal procedures will last longer than implant procedures. And again, many people who need emergency root canals are frequently in pain when they arrive in the chair, unlike implants. Hope this helps.

      • Thank you for your reply…
        Well I recently had a root canal for a fractured tooth… Didn’t find it painful at all…. Infact I didn’t require anaesthetic for my second appointment(the crown)… Having said this… I actually found the shot pretty painful… It was a premolar (lower jaw) it’s the first shot I required in the lower jaw…. And found it much more uncomfortable than the shot in my upper jaw… Is this normal?

  19. I had my root canal done yesterday it was on my front tooth #9. The procedure went pretty well though I needed 8 shots of Novocain. After the numbness wore off I felt fine I didn’t even need Advil. I went in today for a temp crown or cap (?) and now the pain is excruciating and when I blew my nose there was blood. Should I be concerned there was a complication?

  20. I cannot bite down without pain so the dentist performed a few tests and looked at xray. He told me I needed a root canal. There is no infection and he thinks that the nerve is dying. I’m scheduled to have foot surgery in 14 days (bone spur removal). I’m supposed to call the surgeon to find out if the root canal is ok to do 1 week before. Has anyone ever run into a dental emergency. Just before a scheduled surgery? Did you wait on the tooth repair?

    • Heather,
      There are MANY factors at play here, including your medical history and the nature of your scheduled foot surgery. I would definitely talk to your surgeon about that ASAP. And yes, dental emergencies can come at any time, and they have a knack for occurring at inconvenient times (8 hours before a 10 day cruise, the day before a surgery, Christmas Eve, etc.)

  21. Are u lying about a 1 out of 1-10

    • Damien,
      I can’t speak for other dentists or the dentist you might be going to. However, having performed thousands of root canals myself, and having spoken to specialists who have done tens of thousands of these procedures, it is very rare for the patient to experience any pain AFTER they are completely numb. In my experience, over 99.9% of the time, the patient feels nothing (after they are numb of course).

  22. I had an excruciating toothache during Thanksgiving week. X-rays showed no signs of infection, but I was put on an antibiotic and had to take Tylenol and Advil constantly to help with pain. The pain is now gone, but after an examination yesterday with the endodontist, I am scheduled for a root canal next week – on a tooth (#19) which already has a crown on it. They are not planning on removing the crown for the procedure – just drilling down through it. He also stated that I have very long roots. In your experience, could these factors make a difference in the pain level? The doctor claims the only pain I should feel is the initial shot and that I would be sore after the numbness wears off. They even claim that I can return to work after the appointment. Thoughts??? I understand that once I am numb, I should not feel much (if any pain) but that doesn’t help with the anxiety… I sit with clenched fists during cleanings because trips to the dentist make me so nervous!

    • Nichole,
      What you are describing is quite common. Having a root canal performed through a crown is an every day procedure for an endodontist and many general dentists. The length of the roots nor the fact that the tooth has a crown will not affect the level of pain. You will likely feel at least twp pinches to get you numb. Once you are numb, it is highly unlikely you will feel anything. If you are nervous, you could call the endodontist and see if he/she can prescribe you something to reduce your anxiety – assuming you can get a ride. I will often prescribe Ativan (Lorazepam) and it is very helpful. I hope this helps.

      • Thank you for the information! Got done with the root canal procedure a couple of hours ago and so far so good! The procedure took about 1 1/2 hours and i only felt one “twing” of pain about half way through. He stopped immediately and gave me another shot. After that, pretty smooth sailing!

  23. Hi. Broke one of my front teeth pretty badly. It needs a root canal treatment followed by crowning. Was wondering, will it still hurt as the nerve are still healthy and well? He did a temporary bonding back for it and how long will it last?

    • Len,
      I had responded to your comment earlier but due to a backup issue (since resolved) my comment was removed. After the root canal is done you should have no pain. Temporary bonding can last quite some time but it depends on many factors – too many to list here.

  24. Hey I have a upper second to last tooth referred as tooth number 15 that’s been hurting extremely bad it and had 2 fillings done it.Had a crack and was very sensitive to the cold, i sticked through it all summer and fall because of football season. I went to the dentist to fix it, yes they covered the crack but then 6 days in that same tooth started hurting extremely bad. I went to the dentist the next day saying my tooth really hurts and she said she was going to fix my biting???? by drilling a little bit and said to come back in 2 weeks if it still hurt. That same night I experience the worst pain ever with no sleep. I went back in 2 days with the same pain and she said i need a root canal done, really scared! Will it be harder for the doctor to proceed it because of the tooth being far back? Will it hurt???

  25. Yet after the root canal is done it can be weeks before the pain associated with biting down goes away. I’ve had multiple root canals and only one was pain free when finished. With the others, eating was painful for weeks.

    • Wow… I’m sorry you have that. After I had a root canal and crown, there was no pain after the root canal procedure was done (including having the temp crown removed and the permanent crown placed). Biting down created no discomfort whatsoever. I guess everyone’s teeth and associated nerves are a little different!

  26. Hi there!
    Pain is radiating on both sides of my mouth, upper and lower. The pain feels like it is radiating from the teeth and not the gums. Because of the pain, I went to my dentist and he did a double root canal and a filling on two upper teeth on the left side of my mouth. However, the pain is also radiating from a bottom tooth with a cap on it and he told me he has no idea why that any of my teeth are causing me so much pain. I know that when they put on the crowns I was not supposed to feel it, but it was excruciating. I am still in pain and the procedure was done almost a month ago. My dentist has referred me to an endodontist. I took two weeks worth of anti-biotics and have been living on Advil. Once the Advil wears off I am in that radiating pain again. Saw your blog and was wondering if you can give me any insight. Kind of nervous about what could be causing so much pain.

    • Kathryn, your case seems complicated. The endodontist should shed some light on it. Sometimes, the pain pattern you are describing is not from a tooth but from something else. The endodontist should have an answer for you.

      • patricia henneman says

        Hey, I just had a root canal an hour ago on a really touchy fractured lower molar and zero pain. My pain threshold is zero and the endo said not to take pre meds like valium or vicodin. help. I have hd seven epidurals with childbirth and all dental hurts even cleanings and eye exams. but the feared root canal tickled! unreal! thanks for your input .

        • Stella Wells says

          I would like to add my two cents worth in the hope that someone that is anxious will read this & feel calm while facing a root canal in the future. I have had at least 5 root canals & all went well. My only problem was my mild reaction to Carbocaine 2% so I switched to Prilocaine 4%. Yes, the procedure takes a little more time, but you rely on the local injection to eliminate the pain. I envy the patients that can tolerate EPI b/c it lasts longer – that is the key to not needing more shots. I endured the final 5 mins of my last root canal without any pain relief b/c I didn’t opt for another injection when the shots wore off; endo was so close to being done. Rest assured, I contend that the worst part is the anxiety itself. A root canal is no worse than a crown, just takes a wee bit longer. so Relax! 🙂

  27. Hi, i just went to the dentist and they said that i needed to get a root canal . I am not having any pain at all , i didnt even think i had to get one ! it doesnt feel like it is even there . im very scared , considering i am 14 and i need braces but i cant get them until i have a root canal . any advice ?

    • Lauren, you shouldn’t be scared, just be ready for a couple of pinches with the needle followed by a long procedure. Some teeth need a root canal procedure done even when there is no pain. Ask your dentist to show you the x-ray and explain it to you – I do it with my patients all the time.

  28. Scheduled for a root canal tomorrow – tooth #18, and from an above comment, I’m very nervous as it is a lower back molar. Is it possible that I won’t be able to be numbed up entirely and feel part of this procedure. I’m not sure I can handle feeling the procedure and being in this type of pain. I’ll certainly discuss my fears with my endo, but in your experience are all back molars hard to get properly numbed? I have no current pain. This root canal is being done because of deep cavity and that I recently cracked it. Very nervous to go from no pain whatsoever to lots of pain during and after. Also, how often, does the procedure need to be spread out over two visits? My endo was saying that it might take two visits – bleeding being a factor? Very very worried!

    • Stephanie,
      You’ve probably already had the procedure done already. It is very rare that a tooth can’t be totally numbed for a root canal. However, when that does occur, it is nearly always a lower molar. The fact that you are not in pain bodes well for the endodontist being able to get you completely anesthetized. Just try to relax; your mind can either help or hurt you in these cases.

  29. i am actually terrified. i have a root canal in my top back left tooth but i havent felt a thing. what exactly do they do to remove the root canal and how long do you think itll take???

    • Sarah,
      No reason to be scared. It is really just like a LONG filling. Sometimes up to 2 hours long. That is the only major difference.

      • Had a root canal at a shady aspen dental in June , 2013. It is the worst botched job I have ever encounted. Then, while I was home for the holidays back in Boston I had to go to aspen because it was bothering me. At first they were going to charge me for the visit. Ot course I did not. However, they ended up taking x-rays and said it needed to be replaced. Then they told me I needed a deep cleaning blah, blah, blah at 1700.00. and that the tooth could not be worked on until it was done. Felt like a car dealership from the beginning to Boston. I told the office this and she seemed offended (I’m sure she got over it) The dentist said that the system had me in as having to go back. Funny thing is its not in the Naples system just the Boston one so i questioned it and surprisingly..they were not ready for a follow up question from me. They ran into a live on here. After I refused, I called the Naples office back to make an appointment for the redue on the crown. They said come in the 2nd, Jan 14. As I got no reminder…especially when they make sure to call to remind, I know its because I refused the cleaning as they communicated with each other (and called them out on it) they said I didn’t have an appointment for the 2nd after I called they had no opening for a while. Now, its on and I have an attorney filing one fine mess. I paid $3000 cash thinking they could be trusted now its my turn. Now, I hear its bad to have them done due to bacteria and other illnesses that can pop up due to them? Geesh, ill take this on and in the mean time have it pulled.

        • Sorry if its a little confusing. I’m a bit peeved.

          Thank you for eveyones patience when reading it.

        • Stazio,
          I understand your frustration.
          Aspen Dental’s legal team has a very long reach so I have to be careful about what I write. What I can say is that over the years, I have personally seen dozens of patients in my office in Orange, CT from Aspen Dental with similar experiences. So your experience, unfortunately, does not surprise me.
          Please do not generalize and think “root canals are bad” or “root canals don’t work” because of this experience. When you have a properly trained clinician, who is in control of his/her environment, and not being influenced by a corporation, root canals have very high success rates and do not hurt. There are also rumors that root canals are associated with illnesses but there has never been any peer-reviewed legitimate research to support this claim.
          I wish you the best of luck in resolving your situation. In the future, always get a second opinion. I give second opinions to patients all the time, and they are surprised to learn they often do not need a deep cleaning nor do they have 15 cavities.

      • Hello
        I’ve been having an excruciating toothache for almost 5 days now. Just came back from the dentist today and I’m scheduled for a root canal tomorrow and I’m beyond scared. The dentist said I have an infection I’ve been on anti-biotics and take advil to help with the pain no such luck I’m wondering if the procedure itself hurts, when you say “mild sting” how mild I’m afraid the root canal with hurt a lot.

        • Matt,
          Pain meds and antibiotics sometimes don’t help too much with an infected tooth. The definitive solution is a root canal (or extraction). The local anesthesia shot will frequently sting a bit. Assuming proper local anesthesia, you shouldn’t feel any pain during the procedure.

      • Thanks for all the examples re: root canal. Tomorrow I will have my first root canal. I’m less afraid now. Fingers crossed it will go easy.

  30. Hi, I’m 17 and i’m about to have a root canal on my right upper back tooth in a couple days and im more nervous than ever. Some people say that its horrible and others says its not that bad at all with the right anesthetic. I’ve always been nervous when it comes to my teeth even though ive had several dental surgeries when i was younger. Im just wondering, is it going to be harder for them to numb my right upper back tooth or will it be okay and wil i not feel hardly any pain? The tooth also has a cap on it. And anything you could say to help calm me down would be much appreciated!

  31. I had my first root canal yesterday. I too was terrified. I hate the dentist – it had been six years since my last visit and I was fortunate the root canal is the only work I need done. It was in the last upper back tooth and was dreading it – but I have to tell you, aside from the general discomfort of keeping my mouth open for an hour, there was truly no real pain. Seriously, the endodontist did a great job of numbing me (first with a cotton swab) and then with the injections and then it was just noise and pressure. My last regular filling caused more pain before AND after, I was truly amazed by this procedure.

    I was scared for how much pain I would be in once the novocaine wore off, but the most pain I have had is a slightly achy jaw and sore gums from where the injections were. I only took ibuprofen once yesterday! It’s amazing how far dental technology has come.

  32. Hi,
    I chipped about half of my lower left molar, second from the back. I have to at least get a crown, I think, but what are the chances that I need a root canal if I an experiencing no pain? I am 15 and have never had any major dental work, except braces, and a chipped from tooth which was fixed very easily. I haven’t had any cavities either, but I don’t know if that matters when it comes to getting a root canal.

    • Evan, it is very hard to tell based upon your description alone if the tooth will need a root canal. A lack of pain is a good sign but that certainly is not the only factor. I can tell you that about 15% of teeth which receive crowns ultimately need a root canal down the road. I would ask your dentist since he/she will know the size of the chip as well as the cause.

  33. Hello,

    I like most patients, am terrified of getting a root canal. I was recently recommended to undergo root canal therapy. I have thankfully not encountered any pain with my tooth (#19), but my dentist suggested a root canal because he says I have decay really close to my nerve and it’s a matter of time before it starts hurting. I have had many fillings which haven’t been too bad, but I had some really negative experiences with dentists as a child and so I’m somewhat traumatized! I always have great anxiety before a cleaning and specially when I have to get a filling. I don’t numb very well at all. I have had instances where dentists have to inject me 4 or 5 times before I’m at a level where I don’t feel the pain from getting the filling. I don’t know if it’s that I’m just hard to numb or that my anxiety affects me so bad that my body just retaliates the numbing medicine. With this being said I am terrified of feeling the pain during the procedure. I know what it feels like not to be numb all the way and since this procedure is done in order to actually kill the nerve I can’t imagine what I could possibly feel. When you go for an actual filling, what they’re numbing is the actual nerve to that tooth, correct? Does this mean that this is what they do in the case of the root Canal. Is it possible that I could not feeling the initial drilling and then all of a sudden feel when they cut the nerve? I just don’t know what to except and have herd that the procedure itself doesn’t hurt, it’s the tooth pain that people think is unbearable. I am just terrified that I will feel the procedure at any time especially since I do not numb very well. I was also thinking that maybe the nerve would be numb but then the surrounding nerves might not and I would feel the pain from those…please help! 🙁

    • Marleny,
      I understand your fear and apprehension. It is normal. Anxiety can definitely play a role and make it so that you don’t get easily numb.

      In a root canal, the nerve is removed completely. So the nerve needs to be completely anesthetized during the procedures. You are correct that most people associate the pain of the toothache with the pain of the root canal. When properly anesthetized, the root canal procedure does not hurt.

      I would explain your anxiety and your history of not feeling completely numb to the dentist/endodontist doing the procedure. When this happens to me, I ALWAYS administer more local anesthetic to ensure my patient does not feel anything. They should do the same for you.

  34. Hi,
    I just went to the dentist and have some internal thing that eats at my tooth from the inside out. I have to get at least two root canals and crowns. I just want to say thanks so much to Dr. Nicholas Calcaterra DDS for making me feel much better about getting the root canals.

    • Evan,
      It sounds like you have “internal resorption” which does not occur very frequently. I’m sure you’ll do fine. Most dentists will allow you to listen to music on headphones for long procedures. I encourage it. That can be very relaxing. Good luck.

  35. Hi,

    I just got back from the Dentist, I thought was just a cavity that needed a fix, he told me there was an infection above the root and I will have to have a root canal to begin and then fill the hole later. My consultation is next week with whom is preforming the procedure…..I’m terrified for in March when I’m booked in to have a root canal due to everyone saying it’s going to be painful. I’ve been having panic attacks and I’ve been worrying myself too much. If anyone can give me pointers on it such as pain, it would help me so much calm down, because I’m in a panic.

    Thank you!

    • Shane,
      You are worrying for nothing. As I tell all my patients, a root canal is basically like a long filling. By “long” I mean it requires more time in the chair than a routine filling. Just make sure to ask all the questions at your consult and you’ll realize you’re getting anxious and concerned for nothing.

  36. David R Gildea says

    I had a major filling and root canal done on my rear left lower molar years ago, it is mostly metal, hardly any tooth, last year I had partial upper and lower plates built and fitted, every time I wear them that lower tooth hurts, my dentist says it is impossible and re-lined my plates two days ago, since then this tooth hasto be treated with ora-jel to relieve the aching, what do I do ? please help.

  37. Hi , I recently went to the dentist because my tooth chipped. Unfortunately I’ve had a lack of dentists visits in the past. Sadly I found out I need a root canal on that tooth because there has been a cavity there for a while. I am terrified of the dentist, I get horrible anxiety and cry the entire time. Even when they are just examining my teeth. Lucky me , I’m also terrified of needles and have a really bad gag reflex. I was wondering if there is any other way to be numbed , and approx how long the entire root canal procedure will take? I also don’t feel much pain at all in the bad tooth. I’ve been reading online and have seen a few different statements. I saw that if I feel no pain that pretty much means the tooth is “dead” and i will feel no pain durring the root canal. But I’ve also seen that because I feel no pain that means the root canal will be extremely painful?

    • Ashley,
      Every person and tooth is different. But to generalize, if you are not having pain in the tooth right now, it is usually easy to get you completely numb. Sometimes when a patient is in unbearable pain it can take extra shots to get profound numbing. Unfortunately, there is no good way to do a root canal without administering the local anesthesia with a shot.
      Once you are totally numb, you will not feel any pain during the procedure. It’s that simple.
      Some root canals, especially on front teeth, can take less than an hour. Some root canals on molars are more complicated and can take 2 visits and/or take 2 hours or so. It is all dependent.
      You could call your dentist to see if he/she can prescribe a medication to relax you. A little bit of Valium can go a long way. Good luck.

  38. Hi,
    I think I need a root canal. I am scheduled for the consultation next week. But, I cannot get numb at all with regular procedures! I had 2 babies and could not get numb with the epidurals. The doctor couldnt believe it and he tried 3 times to get me numb. They eventually had to do a spinal. Also, I had a toe operation and could not get numb. In the past I did not get numb at the dentist when hey did porcelena veneers on me. It took like 15 shots and it wore off as soon as the dentist left the room for a minute! I am really scared. Can you please tell me what to say or ask for as far as the strongest anesesthia to help me get numb? Is my only option to be under General Anesthesia at this point? Thanks so much! I cant find any info on the internet regarding people who have numbing problems.

    • Lisa,
      Do you have red hair?
      I would relate your experiences to the dentist/endodontist. I would specifically mention your experience with the anesthesiologist during childbirth. Patients tell me all the time that they require more local anesthesia and most of the time it is not an issue. But a patient with red hair or someone who related your specific details to me would signal that it might be a challenge. The strongest local anesthetic which I use for tough patients is marcaine (generic bupivacaine). I hope this helps. Let us know your hair color – that often plays a role. See this article I wrote:

      • Thank you so much for responding! I don’t have all red hair but it does have some red highlights. I am going to ask for Marcaine and pray it works or they know what it is! I am so scared because I know they won’t get me numb.

  39. Jennifer says

    I was very surprised to read that the anesthetic injection (I won’t say Novocaine, lol) is supposed to prevent pain, or any feeling, during the root canal procedure. I had one root canal procedure followed by a crown about ten years ago; it was an upper back molar. Initially, the dentist believed that the tooth could probably be filled, and said she thought that the decay under the old filling didn’t go deep enough to require a root canal, especially since I was not having any pain. She gave me the numbing injection, I got numb, and she started to remove the old filling and the decay. I felt nothing until the drill penetrated the root canal (pulp? nerve?) itself. At that point I felt what could best be described as an electric shock; someone else referred to it as like biting on aluminum foil X1000. My dentist immediately grabbed a syringe and applied anesthetic; I got immediate relief. Unfortunately, being a molar, the tooth had three more ?roots?, all of which zapped me and required further anesthetic applied directly to the inside of the tooth. After the first one, I didn’t care, because luckily my dentist had nitrous oxide available and, knowing I am a nervous patient, started me on it after the first zing. After that experience, I had always thought that it was simply not possible to numb the nerves that are sequestered away inside the tooth. Was I wrong? Was it a fluke? Or does this suggest that I am anesthetic resistant? (I am not a redhead, and to my knowledge there are none in my family). I remember the dentist telling me that my tooth had the longest roots she had ever seen in a molar, and she was using the longest instruments she had. She also placed metal probes in the tooth and took x-rays, to make sure she had “gotten” all of the pulp. If/when I need another root canal, should I expect the zinging? (If so, I’m asking for nitrous again. I’m not sure I’m capable of being nervous while on it.)

    Thanks for any insight you can offer!


    • Jennifer,
      Your experience, which had some unpleasant moments, does not mean you are resistant to the anesthetic. As you correctly point out, nearly all upper molars have three roots. The usual area where we get you numb for a root canal on an upper molar is an injection on the cheek side of the tooth. In my experience, 1 to 2 shots in that area is sufficient for root canals on those teeth about 95% of the time. In the other 5% of cases, I have to give an extra injection(s).
      You might be asking why your dentist did not give you the “extra” one right away? Well, that injection is on the roof of the mouth and it hurts like crazy! I avoid this at all costs but sometimes I have to administer it. So your dentist was probably trying to avoid giving you that shot. I always explain that to my patients and they understand completely.
      Your dentist also gave ones directly inside the tooth. Those can sting a bit to so I try to avoid them unless necessary. But patients who do end up needing those are not resistant. It’s just the anatomy and/or the condition/symptoms of the tooth that make it so they require more.
      If you need another root canal, it is highly unlikely you will feel that zing again. But do ask for the nitrous – that can make a world of difference.

      • Thanks! It is reassuring to know that there is a low likelihood of experiencing that again. Regarding the roof-of-the-mouth injections, I believe I have had one of those before, when a molar just would not go numb for a filling. I don’t remember it being particularly painful; perhaps I was partially numb from the other injections I had already gotten, on the cheek side of the tooth.
        I have an appointment tomorrow morning to have two very old (20+ years!) silver amalgam fillings replaced. My dentist doesn’t think they will be any big deal, but I am a bit skittish after that experience ten years ago. “Surprise” and “root canal” are not two things that go together well in my book!
        I find that I much prefer the nitrous to a lorazepam or other benzo for the anxiety. Using something that will wear off in little more than a minute means that a dentist appointment, even for fillings or crowns, doesn’t have to dominate my whole day.
        Thanks for the info!

  40. I just had a root canal done. It was an upper molar and the Dentist did a pulpotomy first. The tooth was open for 23 days and was only uncomfortable when I would accidentally bite down on it. The root canal was done earlier today and now the pain is worse than it has ever felt. Is this normal? It is hurting in the tooth, my jaw, and my ear. The root canal also hurt while he did it, but it was only for moments at a time. When he started to drill, the pain was bad, so he said he was going to have to do it by hand.

    • Erica,
      It is not uncommon for the tooth to be very sensitive for a couple of days after the procedure. The general rule of thumb is that there should be a gradual reduction in pain following the procedure. I would call your dentist if that level of pain persists for several days.

  41. Rosielutt says

    Hi there.

    I found out I need a root canal today but the infection at the root is laying on the nerve so many dentists will not perform the task. 🙁 I am SO scared.

  42. I am needing a root canal and of course I was nervous as well until I read this post. That has helped so thank you. I wish I had stopped there because after reading some comments I am nervous again because my tooth is the 2nd from the back on the bottom right. So is it normal to have more pain on the bottom in the back? Would you recommend taking a pain pill before the appt.?

    • Erin,
      The only major difference between top and bottom is that profound anesthesia can be slightly more challenging to achieve on the bottom than the top. You could take a pain pill before (assuming nothing in your medical background prevents you from doing so). But the pain pill will likely have no effect on what you feel during the procedure. You should try to relax and not overthink this. You’ll be fine.

  43. I just had 2 root canals done 2 hours ago and I was scared out of my mind. I am happy to say that I did not feel a thing. I would go again tomorrow if it means I can get off work again 🙂 I can’t wait to go eat a big juicy steak!

  44. Joanna Redmond says

    I’m due to have a route canal in 3 weeks on my 2 front teeth. I am not a big fan of the dentist and I’m just worried that its going to hurt? I just want the truth so I know what to expect can someone help?

  45. Hi, I had a root canal yesterday on a top molar with no pain or problems during the procedure. Today, the outer side of the tooth and the biting-side are very sensitive to touch, but it doesn’t hurt otherwise. The crown prep is scheduled in a week. Is this normal?

    • Paula,
      Biting pain is perhaps the most common post-op issue patients experience. It is normal. If one of my patients still has biting pain for over a week, I usually postpone the crown for a couple more weeks. It almost always resolves with time. It you still have the biting pain, tell this to the dentist doing the crown so he/she can decide if the crown should be delayed for a week or two.

      • Thank you, I realized today that I must be grinding my teeth while sleeping because the pain woke me up. It is relieved with ibuprofen and doesn’t bother me much the rest of the day. I will tell my dentist about the grinding. Paula

  46. I’ve had quite a lot of dental work done in the last year. I had nine extractions (including all of my wisdoms), two root canals, three crowns and multiple fillings. Of all the procedures I have had done, root canals were by far the easiest experience. I could fall asleep during a root canal and sleep better than I do at home, it was that painless. As with most any modern dental surgery, the only thing you really feel is a slight prick at the beginning when they use the needle for the anesthetic, and even that is lessened by a topical anesthetic first.

    If anyone is worried about a root canal, don’t be. This article is absolutely right. There’s nothing to it.

  47. Stephanie says

    I had a root canal done today on one of my top teeth. The procedure itself did not hurt at all because they numbed it. Once the numbness wore off I was in a world of pain. I took over the counter pain meds which didn’t help much. My dentist told me to use an ice pack 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off for the rest of the day, that seemed to help a lot. I went from excruciating pain to just being sore several hours later. I sure hope I’m not sore tomorrow!!

    • Laurel Galasso says

      Hi it’s nice hearing some positive comments about root canals. I just had my first temporary crown put in, cause my tooths corner point of a molar chipped, and have been very uncomfortable for 5 days. Going to a endodontics specialist in 2 more days to tell me what’s wrong. My Dentist says maybe my tooth is sensitive from the crown procedure or 7percent of patients who get a crown end up with a root canal. Been living on tyneol. Tired of the feeling. Panicked about a root canal. Very scared. Never mind just had my second set of braces and have always taken good care of my teeth. Didn’t expect to go from a crown to a root canal in 2 weeks. I’ve been in pain. Thought the crown was going to prevent problems. A question do u think the root canal will end the pain? Please tell me it will not lead me to another event? From your experience do you think this will end this tooth journey for me? Thank you tooth exhausted ….

      • Laurel,
        Based on your description it sounds like the tooth needs a root canal. Assuming that diagnosis is correct, then the root canal should relieve all the pain you are experiencing. Don’t give up on the tooth!

  48. Folks,
    I just got home from my first root canal. It was on the lower rear molar. I was very worried about two things…1) pain 2) holding my mouth open for the duration. I can report back that it was much ado about nothing. I felt absolutely no pain and I did not have a problem holding my mouth open. In fact, the dental dam (latex tooth isolator thing) actually helped me keep my mouth open. But once again, I felt NO pain. The drilling process was off and on for about 30 minutes. But I thought it was easier than getting a cavity filled.

    Please rest assured that if you just keep yourself calm (I know that is easier said than done), you will make it through your procedure and wonder why you ever worried in the first place. I did use an endo for the procedure. He does about 5-6 root canals a day and his experience showed.

  49. what if you have an infected tooth and need like 10 root canals … how bad will it hurt and how many can be done in one appointment ?

    • Rachel,
      10 root canals in one visit is next to impossible (at least if you want them to be done well!). Whether you need 1 root canal or 10, the same rules apply. One or two pinches to get you numb, and then no pain. The presence of an infection may make it so you need more numbing. But if you have an active infection you should try to be seen soon.

  50. Hi I had a root canal done 3 wks ago the next day I was in ALOT of pain went back only to discover there was another canal that the dentis had missed…. I have an appt on mon but the past week I have been in ALOT of pain again but this upcoming appt is to put the post in I’m not understanding why I’m still in a lot if pain the nerve is dead I shouldn’t be in any pain, I don’t dare chew on that side when I touch the tooth or my tongue does it hurts a lot what do u think the problem is? I can’t deal with pain as it is this has to be the worst experience ever an I have had a lot of extensive work done since I was a teenager I’m now 39

    • Gina,
      Based on what you’re saying, it sounds like there was a missed canal. That can lead to post-procedure pain like you’re describing. Once that canal is located and treated, then you should be OK. Again, this is based on you’ve written.

  51. Scott Reynolds says

    Had a cavity from my tendency to enjoy to much sugar which became rather large. A trip to my UK dentist confirmed the requirement for a deep filling. The filling procedure was a breeze. No pain, just a lot of noise. Two weeks later and I find the same tooth starting to get painful again. So painful that after a further 4 days I am living on painkillers. A trip to the dentist meant A ROOT CANAL. This is due to inflamed pulp tissue from the filling. The start was relatively alright untill we got down to the pulp /nerve. OMG!!! I have had some nasty injuries in my life but this was 10 on the pain scale. I had tears rolling down my face, my hands ripped part of the arm on the chair and my had was pushed so far back in the chair I forget to breath. The whole experience has been horific. I would not wish this on anyone. I promise to have regular check ups from this day forth.
    Good luck.

    • Scott,
      Why didn’t you ask for more local anesthetic? There is/was no reason for you to sit there and experience pain. As a dentist, this happens occasionally (for fillings, extractions, or root canals), and I administer more, and then the patient is happy.

  52. Stephanie Collins says

    Thank you so much! Im getting one today and ive been scared outta my mind. Im glad i looked this up. Thank you

    • Stephanie Collins says

      I literally dozed during the procedure. The worst pain was when they numbed u up and its just a pinch. Afterwards i even ate some chicken fingers like 10 mins later. It was funny chewing with half my face numb haha. 2 hrs later i took pain killers and took a nap. I have absolutely no pain. Not even sure y i was worried. Its tender sure but painless. Nothing to worry about

  53. Hi, I am going to be having a root canal done in a few days, on my upper back left molar, and I am so nervous about it. The reason is that I’ve had a lot of problems with the tooth for several years, I’ve had it filled 8 times and each time it hurts so much and the dentist has to give me another shot. A couple of weeks ago, I went in because I was having pain, and the dentist redid part of the filling, and didn’t even drill down all the way, and it hurt! He assures me it won’t hurt, but I’m anxious because if it hurts with a filling, even with so much numbing, won’t it hurt a lot for a root canal?
    And also, I was wondering about what other posters have mentioned, that it hurts when the dentist gets to the nerve, but it is possible at that point to numb inside the tooth. But I’m afraid I will have that pain!
    Thank you

    • Hi, I just wanted to update – I had the root canal done today, and thankfully the numbing worked. The dentist gave me one shot, and it wasn’t enough, so he gave me two more, with one in the roof of the mouth, which actually didn’t bother me much. But then he cleaned out the teeth with absolutely no pain at all. Boy was I relieved.
      I did have a question though – he couldn’t finish one canal, he kept trying but said there was a blockage or something, and I have to go back in a week for him to finish. Is this a common thing to happen? Will he be able to get everything out of the tooth?
      Thank you

      • Mariana,
        I meant to respond to you earlier but didn’t have a chance. I am glad that you found your fears were overblown when it came to this root canal.
        To answer your question, it is not uncommon to have to complete a root canal over two visits. The anatomy of molars can be quite complex, and as a result, two visits are required. So this does not mean there is anything wrong.

  54. I have chipped my tooth and hit a nerve I was told that they will perform a root canal costing around 2 grand I’m really scared in not a fan of shots nor poking objects in my mouth I wanted to know will my tooth have to get replaced with a new one in a few years and will I have to get it bleached continuously?

    • Kaitlyn,
      When a root canal is done on a tooth and the patient follows the recommendations (which in many cases are to get a crown afterwards), the tooth can last for many years. However, if the tooth is very compromised and/or the patient does not follow the recommendations, the tooth can be lost in a few years. Regarding bleaching, teeth that have had root canals will typically develop a greyish color. If the tooth is in a visible area, then yes, you will need to be concerned with bleaching or get some type of ceramic (typically a crown).

  55. I swear as the sky is blue root canals do not hurt , I have had one and am getting another one done in about a month and I can’t wait . The pain leading up to the root canal is frustrating and annoying . And I’ll be so happy to sit In that chair to get it done .

  56. i find this kind of funny because i had a root canal over 15 years ago and yes it was the worst pain in the world. i was practically crying. i need two the eventually just pulled the other tooth so i wouldnt have to go threw the pain again. the gave me so many shots of novacaine or what ever its called. the procedure took maybe more than 2 hours because they kept giving me shots and waiting, so on top of that i was so stressed and had a headache for 2 days and some mouth pain (nothing bad) from keeping wide open for so long. there was no pain leading into to root canal. the pain was off and on and i could tell the difference. the pain i felt during the root canal was worse. it was also more a sting than throbbing.
    now i have to possibly get another root canal and id rather just get it pulled but i really dont want to loose another tooth, but also insurance wont pay for the root canal.

  57. Im so scared have to get a root cannal done soon and i am really scared and im just 11

  58. Please help… My dentist retired so I went up a new one and told him my fears of dentist years ago.. I really liked my dentist I had but he’s gone… I had a busted lower right side molar and he told me a root canal.. I had my first root canal done three weeks ago.. I felt pain while he did the root canal.. He was not compassionate at all.. After thr root canal they put a temp on.. That night I was in horrible pain.. For three days I took ibuprofen every 6 hours.. I finally couldn’t stand it and called his emergency number on Saturday at 8 a.m. .. He told me he had a busy day and would call me back to meet ok his office… At 2:30 p.m. He called.. I told him how bad it hurt and if this was normal he said its inflamed and infection without taking an X-ray.. He told me to call MOnday to make an appt for that week to see him.. I called and had appt for Tuesday .. I went to appt and sat in the chair the girl said he would be a couple minutes.. Then in the hall he said to her “is that Kristi” she said “yes she still has pain”and he said “tell her to come back in 3-4 days.”. He never even seen me.. I was upset and left… My tooth still has pain.. Something’s not right but what do I do if he don’t listen? Do I NOT get the temp put on or the permanent? I feel there should be no pain but there is.. Why do you think there is pain? And should I go to someone else? I’m very upset and I do not think he will listen.. Please help me… Thank you

    • Personally, I don’t continue to see any kind of health professional if I truly believe that he or she is not listening to me. Sometimes a patient’s description is the only info available about symptoms! In mid-procedure, seeking a second opinion would be better than weeks of pain! (IMO, anyway!)

    • Kristi,
      It’s hard to understand every aspect based on your description alone. Did the dentist finish the root canal? Sometimes I do root canals over two visits and in between visits the patient can experience pain. There is no excuse for the dentist nor his staff not getting back to you promptly nor seeing you promptly. As a dentist, I never proceed with a permanent crown until all the symptoms are gone. I hope this helps.

  59. Many dentist offices have literature on dental implants for cases when a tooth can’t be saved. That might be something to ask your dental provider about, if you’re worried about losing your smile!

  60. pamela wood says

    I had a root canal treatment on a front tooth today and I’ve never had such pain during a dental procedure. It was horrible. Even the dentist was surprised. He started 20 minutes after novocaine and it was almost immediately painful. Then it was horribly painful. More novocaine didn’t seem to help much. He gave me an Rx for 24 VICODAN. Said he expected it would be sore. He was right. I’m on #2 right now. I’d be reluctant to get another at this point despite that it saved my tooth. Or I hope it did. I’ve had 2 molars pulled that didn’t hurt at all. This was so very painful today. So I beg to differ about it not being painful. Maybe I was one of the small percentage of unlucky ones.

    • Pamela,
      Your experience is out of the ordinary. Did you get a shot on the roof of the mouth? Many dentists will avoid doing that shot because it is painful. But that injection, combined with other ones, should have done the trick.

      • Jeff Leonhardt says

        Dr. Calcaterra, I have had one of the shots in the roof of your mouth. They warned me ahead of time that it would hurt. It did. And pretty bad, but only for a second or two as it numbed everything very quickly. As to my comment to Pamela on root canal pain, would filing past the apex cause additional pain after a root canal? Any why does that hurt so bad? Thanks!

        • Jeff,
          Either instrumenting or filling past the apex can lead to post-operative pain. Note that in some cases, you really HAVE to instrument past the apex… otherwise the success rate is decreased. The pain afterwards is variable. But the analogy I like to tell patients is this: imagine if I took a sewing needle and jammed it one quarter of an inch into your arm approximately 50 times – and that the needle was covered in bacteria and chemicals to kill the bacteria. Don’t you think it would hurt? That is sometimes what is done during a root canal procedure (except it is not your arm but the ligament and bone holding in the tooth). So yes, it can hurt afterwards.

    • Jeff Leonhardt says

      Pamela, I have had 6 or 7 root canals performed and only the last one was painful. The first 6 were done by the same dentist and I had no pain afterward. However, for some reason my last root canal (a month ago, different dentist) hurt for about a week. During the last procedure there was a painful moment when they hit the apex or tip of the root. Not sure if that difference caused the week’s worth of pain or not. Just a side note. I also just had a crown lengthening performed and was pretty worried about pain after the fact considering it is a minor surgery where they cut the gums, expose the bone and remove some of either or both (both in my case). However, I was pleasantly surprised that I only had mild soreness for a day and it has been pain free since. I hope your future root canals are painless!

  61. I wish something like this was around 10 years ago. Then maybe I wouldn’t be 34 and getting dentures. I had such horrible experiences with my first fillings that I avoided the dentist for years. I managed to be cavity free for 16 yrs without visiting the dentist (my mom’s fear of the dentist keeping us from it). At 17 my mom finally took me, the dentist put seals on my teeth but managed to discourage me. I overheard him telling his hygienists it was a waste of time because I was just going to end up with dentures like my mom anyways. Three years later I had four cavities, he told her he told her so. They didn’t numb me enough and even though I told the hygienist, she didn’t tell the dentist and he told me to keep quiet when I tried to tell him. He also kept yelling at me for not opening my mouth wide enough and ended up using something to pry it open more. I still have tmj issues because of that. I ended up feeling everything through the last one and a half fillings. The next dentist I tried to go to years later talked down to me as if I was a criminal or dirt beneath his feet because of the condi5of my teeth. He told me it wasn’t worth trying to save my teeth because I was obviously too lazy to take caee of them (ignoring the fact that I have multiple health issues that have an effect my mouth conditions….I have dry mouth, ph inbalance and GERD. I also at the time had undiagnosed gallbladder disease which had me throwing up on a consistent basis.) Anyways, you should have a show like The Doctors….The Dentists, Putting Your Dental Fears at Ease One Myth at a Time.

  62. I have heard the horrible rumors of root canals hurting for years. So when my dentist told me I needed one in my eye tooth I was so extremely scared. I reluctantly went in for one over a couple appointments because I had an infection. And to my surprise it didn’t really hurt only a little discomfort for a couple days but let me tell you just like this doctor said the pain before the root canal was horrible, the root canal not so much and the relief today is amazing. Dr Craig Costanza will now have a patient for the life of his practice. Not to mention I have had some horrible dentists before him so I was afraid of the dentist. I have had rude ones, ones that inflicted the most pain ever had and one, one that cut my lip up in 5-6 places, one that took literally 6 hours to extract a wisdom tooth (and no it’s not an exaggeration) that I walked away bleeding so badly that I was questioning going to my primary care. If you find a good dentist that knows his/her stuff you will be ok. Though sometimes the good ones are hard to find. Good luck! 🙂

  63. Hello, I have to get a root canal done on one of my bottom wisdom teeth. I’ve heard its more difficult to numb up those teeth in the far back.

    Can those further back teeth be numbed up completely most of the time or is it fairly uncommon for them to be numbed up completely?

    • Jacob,
      You are correct that lower back teeth can be more difficult to numb. That is because of the potential for there to be multiple nerves innervating the tooth – as well as other factors. However, profound numbness can be achieved. Just be prepared that you might need more than one injection – sometimes you need 4 or 5 – for numbness to be achieved.

  64. Hello,
    I have an upper right molar (the fourth tooth from the center) that was capped 11 years ago. Recently it began hurting a little when exposed to hot/cold food or beverages. By the time I got in to see my dentist (after 8 days) I was experiencing a throbbing and stinging pain in/around all my teeth on the top and bottom right side of my mouth – clear to the jaw hinge. The dentist took an x-ray of the capped tooth (since that was where the pain started) and said there is pretty massive infection and decay – to the point the tooth cannot be saved. I was started on antibiotics and I go in on December 21 to have it the capped tooth extracted. My concern is that the pain has not improved after 3 days on the antibiotic, plus I find it hard to believe that one tooth can cause 8 others to hurt. Is that possible? Also, is it normal for an antibiotic to take so long to make a difference?
    Thanks for any input you can give.

    • Rachel,
      Pain from a single tooth can radiate to other teeth and beyond. That is quite common. Based on your description, there could be another tooth, but unlikely since it began in that one area. When it comes to dental infections and pain, antibiotics don’t always resolve it completely. The analogy I like to use is to imagine if you had an infected splinter in your arm that was deep and touching your bone. Sure, antibiotics would help, but since the problem lies with the splinter, you won’t get complete relief until the splinter is removed.

      • Hello Dr. Calcaterra,
        Thank you for the quick and detailed response. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season 🙂

  65. They do not hurt at all! I promise you I’m 13 and got one the other day I’m not in any pain nor was I. I almost feel alseep it was so relaxing! So you shouldn’t be worried

  66. At this time, (2015) there is no reason to experience any pain for any dental procedure. If you are having pain, speak up. If your dentist is reluctant to give you additional anesthetic, find another dentist. I stayed away for years, and am paying the price now. But I have a rock star for a dentist and she has changed my life. No anxiety anymore.. .I just got 4 new crowns seated today – and while I am numb, no pain. 4 more in August….bring on the pain meds.

    • Oh, and by the way, the last root canal I had – which was a molar – took 30 minutes out the door. And that was with multiple injections for numbness – and another great doctor. No pain…some afterward, but that’s what Vicodin is for.

  67. I think it’s more of a combination of the pre-root canal pain and the pain of how much the crown copay is. Even with the best insurance, it’s really not affordable.

    I actually just returned home from my first root canal. We have fantastic insurance. I ended up paying $825 in copays. $690 of that was the crown.

    I opted for the nitrous which is $85 of which my insurance covers $0 so I used a coup I had for $100. I know a coupon sounds like nasty place to go but I have the best dentist and it’s clean and they are digitally updated.

    I’m thankful my doctor is fantastic.

    First world problems, I know, but that’s just an insane price for a tiny piece of porcelain.

    I used to work at the corporate offices of a dental company with 15 offices. I was in charge of making sure the dental labs were paid. An orthodontic retainer costs the dentists about $23. We charged $300.

    I felt no pain before I was told I needed a root canal today but I did feel the pain in my bank account.

    • Jenn,
      You bring up some good points. But let me ask you – when you worked for the corporate office – how do you think you were being paid? From the Tooth Fairy? You may view it is a $23 retainer – but I view it as a piece of acrylic that could only be created if: rent was paid, doctor paid his/her malpractice, electricity was paid, payroll taxes paid, workers comp paid, loan payments on the $25,000 dental chair made, receptionist salary, your salary, assistant salary, liability insurance paid, impression material paid, instruments sterilized and logged, OSHA compliancy verified, annual x-ray fee assessment paid, autoclave inspected. And about 100 other things that must be done and paid for before that $23 retainer can be given to the patient.

  68. Need root canal on upper teeth #7 and 8, do you think it would be better to do one at a time on two separate visits due to the length of the procedure?

    • I would have them done at the same time if possible. You will be numb in that area already and all the instruments and materials will be set up. The extra time to do the second time will be far less than having two distinct appointments.

  69. Susan pinkus says

    I have had more than one root canal done. The first one was WONDERFUL, with NO PAIN WHATSOEVER AFTER THE PROCEDURE. But the second one done at least 10th latter, left me in HORRENDOUS PAIN AFTERWARDS & TOOK ABOUT THREE VISIT to complete. Thinking it was because I was over 30 the second time has made me too fearful to get more that I need now that I am much older 60. Has dentistry advanced enough so that the pain will be gone after a one time visit?

    • Susan,
      It looks like you’re referring to pain AFTER the procedure, as opposed to feeling pain during the procedure. Pain after the procedure is highly variable and will depend on the tooth, the anatomy of the tooth, whether there was an infection present, and many other factors. Some root canals I do take only 45 minutes and the patients feel nothing afterwards. Others take 2 visits at 90 minutes each and the patient is sensitive for a week or more. Dentistry has definitely advanced but there are still some factors we cannot control.

  70. I have to get a root canal in a couple of weeks and I am terrified!! I’m still confused on how it works though. Can they put you to sleep if you want them to or do they just numb the tooth??

    • Izzy,
      Very few dentists are trained to sedate patients and/or put them to sleep. Every day, thousands of root canals are done with just local anesthesia (ie – numbing the tooth). You would have to seek out a special practitioner to sedate you. And in nearly call cases, the sedation would not be covered by insurance, forcing you to pay out of pocket. When faced with all this, nearly all patients opt for local anesthesia only.

    • Some dentists in my area advertise “conscious sedation,” which is not really putting you to sleep, but it does make dental procedures easier. One dentist I went to gave me a prescription for an anxiety medication–a benzodiazepine, specifically–one tablet, to be taken a short time before the appointment. The downside of that is that I couldn’t drive myself to my appointment or home afterward, and I was groggy for hours. I tend to look for dentists that offer nitrous oxide as an option, just in case I have to have another root canal. It’s not the root canal procedure, it’s me; I am a dental-phobe. Can’t even watch little kids wiggle loose teeth. I had nitrous during my first root canal, and it eased the anxiety AND wore off quickly. Once the mask was taken off, I was okay to drive within 5-10 minutes (it probably wears off quicker than that, but I wanted to be sure!). The insurance didn’t cover the extra $50 for the nitrous (at that time, at that dentist–your mileage may vary!), but I was already facing a much larger bill for the procedure and crown, so I didn’t blink at fifty bucks! As I have read all the comments on this article, it keeps coming to mind that the VERY BEST way to manage the anxiety of dental work (for me, anyway) has been to find a dentist I am comfortable with and in whom I have confidence that he will do a good job–and be gentle with my mouth–LONG before I ever need any major work. My current dentist is great; if/when I need another root canal, I’ll be glad I’m already his patient!

      • P.S. Getting a good dentist before you need major work also means taking care of your teeth in the first place: getting routine cleanings and checkups regularly. And, seriously–brushing takes about two minutes, and flossing takes less than two. It takes about 4 weeks to build a habit, so, if you can commit to flossing and brushing every day for 4 weeks, it’ll become something you do without even thinking about it. The bonus is that this stuff makes it less likely you’ll need major work!

        • Jennifer,
          Thanks for your comments. I agree with your statement that 90% of the battle is finding a dentist that you’re comfortable with.
          Regarding brushing and flossing, here’s an anecdote I tell to my patients:
          “Did you know that there is this amazing invention that will enable you to avoid big dental bills, painful dental injections, and time off from work for dental procedures? And even better, it only takes 2 minutes per day?”
          At this point, many patients look at me with amazement and they are dying to hear about this “invention.”
          I respond by saying “a toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste.”
          Most of them chuckle and then say “point taken Dr. C.!”

  71. I currently have a moler thats in need of a root canal, I’m beyond scared but after this I don’t think I am anymore. The nerve in my tooth is dying and I’m sitting here in class with horrible pain. My dentist is rough haha could you do the root canal for me?

  72. This is great information about root canals, I’ll have to show this article to my mom. She found out that she needs a root canal this week and she is terrified! I tried to explain to her, like the article says, root canals relieve pain, they don’t cause pain! It’s ironic that people are scared of a process that actually isn’t scary at all. Thanks for busting this myth and clearing up some of the confusion.

  73. I had a root canal 6days ago, and during it was painful. After the numbing againt wore off it was worse than before. Now I feel as if I was where I was at before the root canal was performed. It hurts to brush that tooth. It feels like electricity is going through my tooth…. Why? They said there would be no more pain. Help!!!!! My dentist is my girlfriends, fathers wife’s receptionist. I’m in a hot spot and feel he is lying to me for money. I’m going broke. I need some advice. Please!!!!! Is it normal to have this pain?

  74. I need advice asap please, I feel like nobody understands me

  75. The part in my post explaining whom my dentist is, I wrote incorrectly. I meant to say….the receptionist of the dentist I see is my fiance’s father’s wife…. so I feel obligated to go there. I don’t know what to do!

  76. I went for a root canal two days ago for my lower right molar #31, I was given Anesthesia but when he started drilling I could feel serious pain. Told him and he gave me another shot and it got better. he continued drilling on another side and it was also painful again. One more shot and I was still in pain. then he got up from the chair and told the nurse to book another appointment for me. All through this he never told me why or anything he just seemed to be in a hurry. Need I say when I would complain of pain he would leave his chair and go to another room. I think he was attending to another patient and also forming annoyance. Shouldn’t I complain if I’m in pain? I am not naturally scared of a dental visit, I am used to the discomfort. I had to ask a nurse what the matter was and she said the nerve has been removed but I had to come back for the cleaning and filling. Now I am in terrible pain, he didnt give me any pain relief medicine after until I called to ask and the nurse said it was cos I filled in my form that I might be pregnant. I have been using Tylenol but it doesn’t help. I mistakenly bit down on it and the pain is unimaginable. The irony of all these is that I never had pain on this tooth. I just went for cleaning and my regular dentist referred me for a root canal saying the cavity could not be resolved with a filling, hence this.

    I went to another dentist today to be sure, she mentioned that there was a cavity at the base of that tooth and that maybe that was why I couldn’t be numb. This new hospital seem to be fine but they did not mention to me that they were not in my insurance network (even though they are listed on this insurance’s website) until they showed me my bill estimate prior to booking the root canal appointment.

    Now I am just so confused, do I go back to this first dentist as he doesn’t seem to know what he is doing. He was indifferent to my pain and I think he stopped drilling cos he saw the cavity. I would expect that he should have seen this cavity from the x-ray and also when I complained that I had pain shouldn’t he have numbed me more?I have an appointment in 2days and I am just so confused.

    • Tee,
      Your story is very complicated and it is not possible for me to know exactly what you should do. I will say that lower molars – like tooth #31 – can be challenging and time consuming to numb for a root canal. When I schedule a root canal on #31, I have the patient come in 20 minutes early so I can get them numb. I nearly always give 3 shots right off the bat. Even still, I sometimes have to give more so that they don’t feel anything.
      So, you feeling the pain is not entirely abnormal. What perhaps could have happened differently is for the dentist to reassure you that this happens frequently and explain why you need to return.

  77. Daisy Cohen says

    I need 5 front bottom teeth pulled.
    I’m scared of injections.
    Will Nitrous Oxide calm me ?
    And I will not feel pain when teeth extracted? Or do I still need to get area num with injection ?

    • Daisy,
      If the front teeth are wobbly or loose, then the extractions will not be bad, since they will likely come out easier than if they were not loose. Nitrous oxide, when used at the dentist, does nothing to stop pain. It can relax you and make you care less about what is going on. But you will most certainly need local anesthetic injected. However, you are likely to not care as much about the small pinch of the needle if you are breathing the nitrous. Once you are properly numb, you will only feel a but of pressure when the teeth come out.

  78. Felice Morin says

    One thing is for sure: the pain of getting a root canal operated on is much less than the pain in the tooth that precedes the operation. It’s true that a root canal really is a relief. My dad has had two root canals and he’s been grateful for them both times. I’m surprised that some people have deemed it to be even worse than child birth! Anyway, thanks for you article!

  79. Kathy Cook says

    I had a crown done last September. The tooth (upper large 3rd from back) had a huge filling so my dentist recommend a crown while I still had dental insurance. 6 months later I start having hot/cold sensitivity. Saw an endodontist & am now scheduled for a root canal in 2 weeks. Now the sensitivity has stopped & I no longer have dental insurance, so what’s the risk if I cancel my apt & take a wait & see approach ?

    • Kathy,
      I was not there for any of your evaluations or to view your x-rays. However, if the endodontist recommended a root canal, then that means the nerve inside the tooth is compromised. A compromised nerve does not always hurt. If you delay treatment, you run the risk of that tooth flaring up at an inconvenient time. And there are other risks as well.

  80. Nicholas says

    hi, iv’e been scheduled for a root canal on my upper front left tooth about 13 days from now. I’ve been reduced to eating soup since as soon as my teeth come together in a non slow fashion i get a jolt of pain from the tooth, i’ve been worrying about grinding at night because of this reason, is a mouth guard for at night something i should look in to and generally what would the success rate be on a front tooth rtc compared to a molar and what would be the time comparisson of the two. thanks 🙂

    • Nicholas,
      In general, the success rates of root canals on upper front teeth are much higher than molars. This is because the access is much easier, the root canal anatomy is less complex, and other variables. They typically take less time as well. Regarding a nightguard, that is for grinding, but it sounds like you should do the root canal first and then see what happens with the symptoms.

  81. Discovery Dental WA says

    I checked the shared video associated with root canals! It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing this post

  82. Kristen M. says

    I’ve had root canals that have relieved pain and some that have caused major pain and complications. I had one tooth abcess after the procedure, which caused a bone infection. It was unreal how much pain that caused, and I could not find relief because it all happened over a weekend and the dentist couldn’t be reached. I just had a root canal on a molar yesterday and am currently in excruciating pain, which actually isn’t what I’ve typically experienced. I wonder if this one is getting infected, too. There was no evidence of infection belle the procedure, but I guess these things happen….

    • Kristen,
      It is not uncommon for there to be some amount of pain AFTER a root canal. Excruciating pain afterwards for an extended period of time is not typically normal. You should follow up with the dentist or endodontist who should shed some light on this.

  83. Just had a root canal yesterday after being in excruciating pain so bad I was waking up every few hours needing Advil and it was awesome for me. She applied the anesthetic and I took a nap while she worked, no pain at all. I go back in next week for a root canal on a different tooth and I’m not even worried. After she finished I had no more pain in my tooth and I just slept through the night without waking up once so I am officially pro root canal

  84. Rui Oliveira says

    ad hominem attack deleted

    • Rui,

      Your inappropriate and offensive comment was deleted.

      I suppose I could tell you that I’ve helped hundreds of patients in severe pain – pain worse than childbirth according to many – with a root canal – but somehow I think your mind is already made up.

      You appear to have a grudge against dentists and this particular procedure based upon your own experiences – and seem intent on extrapolating them onto all dentists and all dental procedures.

      You are more than welcome to start your own blog and publish your thoughts on this procedure.

  85. Hi, I’m 17 and this will be my first ever root canal. I’m a nervous wreck. I go in sometime at the beginning of August to get my root canal done.

    My friends are telling me horrid stories about the pain and it’s scaring me badly. This has helped me some by reading but I’m still a bit scared since it’s my lower molar that needs it.

    So any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated thank you!

    • Haley,
      My advice is to stop listening to your friends. How many of them have had a root canal? Nearly all dentists will allow you to listen to music through headphones. Try to do that. And if you are really nervous, you could ask your parents about asking the dentist about getting a prescription to relax you. You’ll likely be fine.

  86. Nicholas says

    hi, i had a root canal done on one of my front teeth, it’s been about 2 months now and i am now getting a sleight sensitive pain return to the tooth (the same sensitive pain that prompted the root canal) it is slowly getting worst and am not in serious pain but am worried that this will not get better and will only get worst. what should i do?

  87. I have a cracked tooth that may require RCT. My question is about anesthetic. For an upper back tooth do they need to do the needle in the roof of your mouth as well as the gums? I had that when my upper wisdom tooth was extracted and would go to great lengths to avoid experiencing it again.

    • Lil,

      That really depends upon a lot of factors. When I do an RCT on an upper molars, I have to do the roof of the mouth injection (formally called a palatal injection) about one third of the time.

      Many dentists and endodontists will just proactively do it. Others, like me, will wait and see if the patient needs it. On one hand, my approach seems the most compassionate. But on the other hand, do you really want the potential to feel pain, and then get the injection? Some would prefer to just get the painful injection and then be nearly guaranteed to feel no pain after.

      I would mention this to the person doing the RCT and see if you can agree on an approach.

  88. If your abscess is large then there’s a chance the pH imbalance of the infection will stop the numbing agent from being fully effective. I’ve recently had a root canal (my third) and the abscess was a legitimate problem. There was lymphatic involvement and my face had swollen significantly. Two courses of antibiotics had only reduced it so I decided to just get the root canal started. I was warned that the numbing might not work properly and that I should raise my hand if I encountered pain and my dentist would stop. The numbing agent didn’t work anywhere near as well as it had formerly. My other two procedures were actually more comfortable than a regular filling because an endodontist won’t ever skimp on the “lidocaine”. The pain was ludicrous, however after two months of agony I figured I’d rather get it over with so I just sat through it. I’m pretty sure I left a set of fingerprints deeply embedded in the arms of the chair, but I didn’t wince! Go me, I guess. Once the roots had been cleaned out and a temporary, antibiotic-filled dressing was applied the numbing agent started to work on the way home, much to the amusement of my children. “Hey Dad!”, “Theyy kidths!”.

    This was a foolish choice on my part, I make no excuse for that, there are of course other options to take when dental numbing doesn’t take hold properly at first, but I was committed to getting that root scraped out and scraped out it was. Well, almost all of it, there’s still some in there causing me trouble right now, hopefully the numbing works properly for the next round of treatment.

    The moral of this little story of foolishness: even when it hurts, which is almost never, it still doesn’t have to really. A skilled endodontist is worth their weight in sintered porcelain crowns and I’ve never met one that didn’t have their patients best interests squarely in their thoughts and their hearts.

  89. I had an accident where I had fallen off of a bicycle and landed right on my mouth. One of my front tooth now has a chip (no pain) but the one right next to it is intact but painful to cold. My co-worker said I may need RCT. I am going to the dentist on Friday. Is the front upper teeth easier to perform an RCT? Or does it depend on the severity. (And by the way, your article above helped ease the tension of going.)

  90. This post is so true! I believed the old myths, which were compounded by bad dental HMO that referred me out for a root canal that I didn’t even need. Thankfully, then the endo tried to put on the dental dam with no explanation or empathy for the claustrophobia it triggered, I want out of there! Paid out of pocket for my previous wonderful dentist who saved the tooth with a deep filling. Fast forward to years later and a tooth that really did need a root canal. I’ve since moved out of state and gotten great insurance, and my new dentist was sympathetic to my fears, made sure there was zero pain, and positioned the dam in such a way that it felt good to have the protection rather than being trapped by a torture device. the horrendous pain is now gone, and I wouldn’t hesitate to have another root canal if necessary. Just find a dentist who cares about patients instead of a production line.

  91. I had the first part of a root canal about a week ago on an upper molar with no pain during or after and only mild jaw aches. Fast forward to tonight and still no pain, but a distinct metal taste and shock sensation whenever anything touches the tooth. Should I be concerned? It is mild, however very distracting.

    • Amanda,
      Your symptoms are similar to what is called galvinism. This occurs when two teeth with two different types of metallic filling materials touch. It is possible that because of the procedure, you now have metal in the tooth that had the root canal exposed. However, this is just a theory, and I am not there to see if it is actually occuring. At any rate, it is unlikely to be present long term, I would just mention it when you return for the root canal to be completed.

  92. Hello I had two abcessed teeth on the bottom front. My face was so swollen before they started drilling. It hurt so bad while they were doing the root canal. I starting crying because how bad it hurt. The swelling has gone down but I’m still swollen. And it still hurts. He put me on antibiotics and packed the wholes. I go back in a week to get the crown put on. Will it hurt to put the crown on? I swear that pain was worse than recovering after a c section. When should the swelling go down?

  93. I’ve had my share of root canals and none of them hurt. I just had one done yesterday on my canine tooth and I’m hurting so bad right now! I was informed that the canine tooth has the longest root of all teeth; is this the reason why I’m in so much pain?

  94. Hi my front top tooth is lose and lower than my other top front tooth. It really hurts like i think the nerve is exposed does that mean i need a root canal? I try not to open my mouth as much when talking it sticks out like a sore thumb i dont want to loose my tooth but this crap hurts. What should i do?

    • Tim,
      I’m not there to see the tooth nor look at x-rays. However, if it is loose, and it is sticking out, the tooth may have gum disease. A root canal is not the appropriate procedure for gum disease. It would be best to see a dentist to assess what is going on.

  95. Hi. I’m supposed to get a root canal done on a front tooth. I see a lot of comments about molars. So, are front teeth easier to get root canals done on? It’s also a broken tooth as well, not sure if that makes a difference.. but I am having lots of anxiety about it.

    • In general, front teeth root canals are less difficult than molars. There are a lot of factors that affect the complexity of the case. But, generally speaking, front teeth have easier access, less complicated anatomy, and other factors in their favor. I tell all my patients to consider a root canal as just like a filling that will simply take longer.

  96. Hi, I had a surgical extraction (on a tooth that had a root canal a year ago) and now 8days later the tooth behind it really hurts. I cannot bite down or let anything touch it. The dentist gave me shots of novacaine and packed the extraction site.. The tooth still hurts. What should I do?

  97. I have just had part one of a two part root canal treatment done in the UK and hoped my experience could help others. It was a lower back tooth, cavity caused by a wisdom tooth (now extracted) pushing against. We tried a normal filling which failed and I have been in moderate to severe pain for 12 months with an on and off numb face. I can honestly say that so far the root canal has been a wonderful experience. I have a great dentist who I trust and he put me totally at ease and went very slowly. Only once did I feel a small amount of pain but he soon sorted that with a top up of the local anaesthetic. Afterwards I was in a little pain for the rest of the day but now 4 days later I am totally pain free for the first time in 12 months. I feel like a weight has been lifted. I need to return in 2 weeks to have the temporary filling replaced but I am not too concerned. I would say to anyone nervous and putting it off, life is too short to waste time with tooth pain, if I had known how easy this would be I would have acted sooner.

  98. im getting a root canal done today on my lower right tooth next too my molar, do you think it will hurt a lot?

    • Josh,
      It is highly unlikely it will hurt. If you are scared, just ask the dentist/endodontist to give you more. I nearly always oblige when a patient requests it (unless something in their medical history makes me cautious).

  99. Mouthful of pain says

    Hi Doctor,
    I have a vertical fracture on my mandibular molar. It was so painful, but I saw my dentist and he did a pulpectomy and the pain instantly went away. This was 2 weeks ago. He sent me to an oral surgeon and now I am scheduled for extraction with an implant. However, the tooth pain is back and worse when I am chewing. The oral surgeon said it is likely infection and placed me on augmentin. After 3 doses, still in pain. Could it be that it’s not an infection and the fractured tooth is hitting a nerve. Also, why is there pain if the dentist cut the nerve to that tooth during the pulpectomy. Thanks for any advice you may have.

    • If you were diagnosed with a vertical fracture, then most likely that fracture has gone deep under the gums and to the bone holding in the tooth. So, even though the bulk of the tooth nerve is gone, the tooth is infected with bacteria and the bacteria are irritating the nerves in the bone holding in the tooth. Antibiotics can’t always help the situation very well. The most definitive treatment is to have the offending tooth removed, which sounds like you are scheduled to do.

  100. Hello,

    I had a filling in my top rear tooth about a year to two years ago, everything was fine and I was finally free of my constant anxiety. I brush and floss everyday, but since I’ve had my braces removed (3 years ago) my teeth have been crumbling not at the gum but find of close. I am very stressed out and scared that there is a bigger problem. Anyways, the top rear tooth filling has crumbled and I don’t think the tooth could support a crown, since it was drilled until not much was left. What do you think would be the best solution an extraction, or a possible crown, or another filling? I am very worried about going to the dentist, I have had two really bad childhood experiences and suffer from anxiety. I would just like a possible outcome so I can easy my mind and not be so stressed out. Please, any advice or words of encouragement would be helpful.
    Thank you!

  101. I had an emergency root canal two days ago. I have terrible dental anxiety. My dentist sent me to an Endodontist because I have a complicated root/nerve system (of course I’m the odd ball). The Endodontist was great. My dentist was great the next day for the crown prep. I’m still nervous to finish and I found out I’m going to need another root canal and crown as well. I pray for the same outcome from two great doctors of teeth.

  102. Well I recently had a root canal for a fractured tooth… Didn’t find it painful at all…. Infact I didn’t require anaesthetic for my second appointment(the crown)… Having said this… I actually found the shot pretty painful… It was a premolar (lower jaw) it’s the first shot I required in the lower jaw…. And found it much more uncomfortable than the shot in my upper jaw… Is this normal?

  103. I am just asking to see if this is even possible. I had a root canal done today on number 3 top right next to last molar. After the numbness wore off I have started to feel throbbing pain in my LOWER right back molar that already has a crown on it? Please tell me it’s just a aggravated nerve and not infection spreading to another tooth? I have already spent 1100 on trying to save that bottom one.

    • Pain – either pre-operative or post-operative – can radiate from one arch to the other. It doesn’t cross the midline. Many times patients will come in with pain on their right side and we have to figure out if it is top or bottom. So what you’re describing could be attributed to post-op pain from the procedure.

  104. Just had a root canal last week after dealing with tooth pain for over a year. Should have gotten it done A LOT sooner, the procedure was painless (besides the prick of the needle to numb, but even that wasn’t bad) and it only took about an hour.. No pain when the numbing agent wore off and I have been pain free since. Highly recommend them to anyone with abscess or tooth pain.

  105. I’ve had 6 root canals due to trauma on my nerves when I was younger and two extremely deep cavities. I have “soft enamel” my dentist says so I’ve had about 20 cavities filled too. I think I’ve had my fair share of awful dentistry but my root canals were not apart of those experiences. Each one I’ve had went very smooth and I felt no pain. The posts below may lead you to believe that your bottom molars can’t be numbed correctly but I believe that was a dentist error, not the teeth. Find a dentist you can trust and if you had the worst experience of your life, or fear that you might, DONT GO BACK. Find a good dentist. Look up ratings in your area and make sure you have done all of your research! Root canals are easier than a cavity filling with the right dentist, I promise! Best of luck!

  106. Hi, I had a question that was bugging me for awhile now.

    Since infections can make it trickier to numb a tooth, and bottom molars can also be tricky to numb too, could a bottom infected molar still be made completely numb for a root canal?

    I’m scheduled to get a root canal soon on a bottom molar which may be infected and its quite worrisome

    Also wanted to say thank you for making the article you did and for answering so many questions, its really helped ease up a lot of my fears reading some of the stuff here

    • Ryan,
      You are correct that those two factors (lower molar and presence of infection) make a tooth more difficult to numb. Impossible to numb? That would be very improbable. Probably the biggest issue you might face would be more injections than you might care to experience. For a lower molar root canal, I always do 3. Chances are, you’re making a bigger deal out of this than you should. Let us know how the procedure goes.

  107. Chris Nuss says

    I had a root canal done a couple of years ago on an upper tooth (#4). The experience was very painless with the exception of some mild pain that night after the numbness wore off. However, now I have to have another one on a lower (#31) and from some experiences I’ve read on here it seems that if there is a problem during the procedure it seems to be in this area. I don’t mind the shots but now I’m terrified of it not being numb enough and a nerve being hit before I realize it. My question is, how unlikely is this and is there a way I can immediately tell if the area isn’t completely numb?

    • Chris,

      You’ve read enough to learn that lower molars can sometimes be the most challenging to numb. Keep it in perspective. To employ a crude analogy: you’re much more likely to have failure of your brakes in a 15 year old car than in a 6 month old car. However, it does not mean you shouldn’t consider driving a 15 year old car. You don’t want to psyche yourself into thinking you’ll automatically feel something just because it is a lower molar.

      There are various ways to assess how numb you are. Some are subjective – such as whether the lower lip on the affected side feels numb. And there are more objective tests – such as placing a small piece of cotton that is extremely cold on the tooth and seeing if there is a response.

      I would communicate your concerns to the dentist. From there, he/she should be able to reassure you that the procedure goes without a hitch.

      Hope this helps.

  108. I’ve literally had 5 root canals, Make sure your completely 100% numb and are comfortable to begin, I just had one yesterday morning…Today my tooth feels amazing…..I am a HUGE baby when it comes to pain in my mouth, super sensitive teeth..I didn’t feel a thing and even texted my dentist thanking him! Don’t be scared and just make sure your thoroughly numb, if you feel it even a little bit, LET THEM KNOW!

  109. Jade Reihen says

    Not true. Had a root canal for supposed nerve decay with minor pain. The procedure itself was great, I was unconscious. The pain AFTER was extreme. Peaked the second day and luckily my endodontist called in Vicodin. Before that he had told me I’d just need Advil. Ha! They drill down and remove the decayed or dying nerve, of course it will hurt afterward! Now four years later have a fractured root on that same tooth, pain like after the root canal, haha lucky me, now it has to come out anyway!

    • I am confused as to why you are saying this is not true. You said the procedure was great and you were unconscious. That implies you had no pain. That was the point of this post.

      Pain can potentially occur after any procedure – a root canal, an extraction, a colonoscopy, open hear surgery, etc.

      No where is this mythbuster did I write that you would be guaranteed of no pain afterwards.

  110. Oh boy–this seems like quite the popular post. I just had my very first root canal. I have extreme anxiety in the dental chair. Luckily I have excellent teeth. My entire life (53 yrs) I have only had one cavity (an odd positioned tooth, that I could not brush well). I recently broke a tooth (furthest back, upper right) so temp crown was needed. Mild pain (one injection handled it), but the temp crown broke 2 days later (even w soft foods). Temp fixed but new pain, dentist said root canal. I have other health issues so she put me on an antibiotic for a few days as a precaution. I was a wreck–I think what helped me most was when the tech explained the process. The procedure and how/why it worked made sense. I approved the RC abs she said sure enough it was bad as was the pain. I felt pain throughout and kept stopping her. She gave me more shots of Lidocaine (methinks). By the end I had 4 shots. I guess my contribution is–if you feel pain tell the dentist and get more shots. In two days I get the permanent crown–praying that is the end. Praying I never need a lower molar RC.

  111. I can’t thank you enough for writing this and easing my anxiety. I will be having a root canal this Tuesday and if heard nothing but horror stories. I am completely at ease now and I’m looking forward to getting this tooth taken care of.


  1. […] As we get ready to kick off the 8th annual Root Canal Awareness Week on Sunday March 30, it is remarkable to see that root canals are still perceived to be horribly painful and worse than torture. I outlined this myth in one of my Dental MythBuster posts called Dental MythBuster #3 – Root Canals Hurt! […]

  2. […] At least one blogger might suggest that those 33% have no idea how horrible root canal therapy (RCT) can be – not so much due to the procedure itself as just a long, early morning in the dental chair. As many an endodontist – root canal specialist – will tell you, RCT doesn’t hurt. (The diseased tooth is a different story.) […]

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