Is a Root Canal Painful?

If your dentist recommends a root canal treatment to treat an infected tooth, you might feel nervous if you don’t know what this involves. In fact, as your dentist will numb the part of your mouth being treated to block pain, endodontic (root canal) therapy is usually no more painful than any other non-surgical dental procedure.

A study found that most patients who have root canal treatment in fact do not find it to be the most painful dental experience they’ve ever had, but the misconception that it’s a painful and scary procedure is still widespread.[1] This may be because people are associating the treatment itself with the symptoms it helps to take away.

Root canal treatment can help relieve pain

Dentists recommend root canal treatment when the soft tissues in the centre of the tooth (the pulp) become infected or damaged. The treatment involves removing this infected pulp, replacing it with a synthetic material and covering the tooth with a crown or large filling.[2] This can eliminate the pain and restore the tooth’s former appearance and function.[3]

An infected or damaged tooth can sometimes be extremely painful. Your tooth might also feel more sensitive to temperature or pressure when you eat and drink, it may feel loose, or you may notice swelling in your gum or face. However, it’s also possible to have an infected tooth without any obvious symptoms.[4]

Dentists offer pain relief

Root canals and other dental treatments are routinely performed using local anaesthesia. This helps to numb pain responses in the part of the mouth being treated and lasts for the duration of the treatment.[5]

If you feel nervous about the treatment, your dentist may offer additional sedation options to help you feel calm and relaxed. Some of these may affect your recovery time.[5]

Teeth may feel sensitive after treatment

While root canal treatment itself shouldn’t be painful during the procedure, your tooth may feel more sensitive or painful for a few days after the anaesthetic wears off. This can depend on factors such as age, gender, which type of tooth was affected, as well as how severe the toothache or infection was prior to treatment.[6,7] The good news is that your symptoms of the causing problem should go away after the infected tissue is removed.

The pain after the procedure can usually be managed by taking over-the-counter pain relief medication and following your dentist’s advice about foods or activities to avoid while your mouth is healing. If pain or discomfort continues after more than a few days, or you have other unexpected symptoms, you should contact your dentist.[2]

Root canal treatments can prevent extractions

A root canal is sometimes the only option to stop an infection and save a tooth. If a tooth pulp infection is not diagnosed or treated, the infection may spread to other teeth or the jaw. This can cause permanent damage, including tooth loss and bone loss.[4]

The alternative is to remove the tooth (extraction), which can be more complex as your dentist will also recommend replacing the extracted tooth. Dentists always prefer to save a tooth rather than extracting, but this may not be possible if the tooth is already too badly damaged to repair with a root canal.[2]

Talk to a dentist in Geraldton

For more information about root canal treatment and other treatments we offer at Chapman Road Dental Clinic, contact our friendly team today on 08 9964 3577.

Ask your health insurance provider about rebate information and what you’re entitled to claim for your treatment.


[1] Wong M Lytle R. A comparison of anxiety levels associated with root canal therapy and oral surgery treatment. Journal of Endodontics. 1991; 17(9): 461-465.
[2] American Association of Endodontists. What is a Root Canal? [Online] 2017 [Accessed July 2018] Available from:
[3] Pak JG White SN. Pain prevalence and severity before, during, and after root canal treatment: a systematic review. Journal of Endodontics. 2011; 37(4): 429-438.
[4] Better Health Channel. Root canal treatment [Online] 2017 [Accessed July 2018] Available from:
[5] Better Health Channel. Root canal treatment [Online] 2017 [Accessed July 2018] Available from:
[6] Ng YL Glennon DJ Setchell DJ Gulabivala K. Prevalence of and factors affecting post-obturation pain in patients undergoing root canal treatment. International Endodontic Journal. 2004; 37(6): 381-391.
[7] Ali SG Mulay S Palekar A et al. Prevalence of and factors affecting post-obturation pain following a single visit root canal treatment in Indian population: a prospective, randomized clinical trial. Contemp Clin Dent. 2012; 3(4): 459-463.