The most infamous of all dental procedures, negatively popularized in the media and subject to much vilification, the root canal is perceived as quite painful and is immediately feared by those experiencing a toothache. Everyone has a family member or friend that has undergone the undesirable procedure and has spoken novels about it, but is all of this bad press warranted? What actually causes the pain and what is the root canal procedure? We’re here to debunk the common misconceptions and explain to you what really happens during a root canal procedure and assure you that it is not nearly as painful as it is made out to be.


When you experience decay or a crack in a tooth that leads to the nerve, the nerve eventually dies off. Mouths are hotbeds for bacteria because of the food we eat; therefore, it is extremely easy for bacteria to find the dead nerve and use it as a source of nourishment. The inside of the tooth becomes completely infected, and your body is unable to fight it because the blood supply from the nerve has been cut off. The bacteria spread and cause an abscess between your tooth and jawbone, which is what actually causes all the pain.

Initial Symptoms

The first symptom that the majority of patients get is tooth pain. This pain can range anywhere between mild to severe and can fluctuate over the course of the day. It may intensify when biting down and can become more sensitive to heat. The gums can also feel swollen around the tooth where the pain is located. Many will try to prolong this phase, hoping that it will go away on its own, dreading an impending root canal. What they don’t realize is that it is this delay which causes the pain to get worse, not the actual root canal procedure. A root canal is intended to treat infection and relieve pain. At your very first sign of tooth pain, call your doctor to get it checked out.


The first step in determining whether you need a root canal is taking an x-ray. Your doctor will examine the results and explain to you the best course of action. If the answer is a root canal, there is no need to worry about further pain, you’ve already gone through the worst of it. Modern medicine allows doctors to completely numb your tooth before the operation, which completely dispels any pain during the procedure. Afterwards, an opening is made through the crown of your tooth that opens up a path to the dead nerve, otherwise known as the pulp. The pulp is removed and replaced with a permanent material, which keeps the canal free of bacteria. The tooth then receives a filling or crown to plug the hole.

Root canals have a high success rate but must still be looked-after once completed. Good oral hygiene, regular dentist visits, and avoiding hard foods can prolong the life of your teeth. At any sign of pain, contact your doctor to avoid further discomfort. And remember, gone are the days of painful root canal procedures. Anesthesia is a common practice and can render a root canal as painless as getting a tooth filled. It is merely the symptoms of the infection that cause the most pain, and the sooner you visit a doctor, the sooner you will be rid of it.