What to Do If You Need a Root Canal


Have you noticed more discomfort recently when you eat or drink? Did you suffer a mouth injury while playing sports or as the result of an accident?

If so, you might need a root canal. Dental professionals perform thousands of these procedures every year to save natural teeth. Here’s what to do if you suspect you may need one. 

1. Recognize the Signs

Root canals clean out infection from your tooth’s pulp and root, but you need to know that you have a problem first. Hopefully, you see your dentist every six months for checkups, during which time your technician will look for decay. However, if you don’t regularly visit your provider, the following signs may indicate that you need the procedure: 

  • Persistent tooth pain: Tooth pain can stem from multiple causes, but it always deserves a trip to the dentist. 
  • Heat and cold sensitivity: Feeling discomfort when you drink tea or eat ice cream can indicate an infection in the pulp. 
  • Chipped or injured teeth: If your tooth comes loose or chips due to injury, you may need this procedure. 
  • Tooth discoloration: Tooth discoloration can come from surface stains or an infection deep within the pulp. 
  • Swollen, painful gums: Swollen gums that are painful to the touch can indicate an infection. 

Some of these symptoms also indicate other dental disorders. Only a licensed professional can determine the correct treatment. 

2. Find the Right Specialist

Your family dentist probably won’t be the one to perform your root canal procedure if they deem one necessary. They will likely refer you to an endodontist, a doctor specializing in treating conditions that affect the interior tooth and its root. 

However, if you don’t have a family dentist whom you visit regularly, you can search for a specialist directly. Many of these professionals treat dental emergencies and trauma and will take you without a referral. 

3. Fund Your Procedure 

Even if you have insurance, a root canal surgery can cost you a pretty penny once you factor in copays and deductibles. It’s best if you don’t have to unnecessarily dip into your emergency fund — what are some alternatives? 

One option is to use your health savings account if your employer offers one. Even if you only have a single plan, you can still use your benefits to pay for your spouse or children’s unreimbursed medical expenses. 

Check with your health insurance, too. While relatively few plans cover adults, some do, and many more include children’s dental care. If you have both dental and standard health coverage, you might be able to “double-dip” depending on your insurer and network. 

4. Learn What to Expect 

It may sound cliché, but knowledge is power when it comes to calming your anxious nerves. Learn everything you can about your root canal procedure before you lie in the chair and await sedation. 

Your provider will likely consult with you before your procedure. Here are some suggested questions to ask: 

  • Why is the tooth worth saving? Your provider should discuss your other options, such as implants. 
  • What is the long-term prognosis? How long will your root canal last? Is it likely you will lose the tooth later down the road? 
  • How long will recovery take? In general, most people recover from a root canal within a few days to a week. Your provider should review your diet with you, including when you can return to eating certain foods. 

5. Gather Your Support System 

If you are worried about pain, take comfort. Your provider should offer you sedation for your procedure. However, this medication means you won’t be able to drive yourself — ensure you have someone to take you to and from your appointment. 

It also helps to have someone with you if your provider sends you home with medication. Some pain prescriptions can make you drowsy, and it merely feels better to have someone by your side after a challenging dental procedure. 

6. Prepare Your Recovery Space

Fortunately, you won’t have to go hungry after your root canal procedure, although you might not feel like eating much afterward. Your only real restriction is to wait until the anesthesia wears off so that you don’t accidentally bite your cheek or tongue. 

However, you will want to avoid hard and chewy foods until your dentist fully restores your tooth. Extreme heat or cold might likewise cause discomfort. Here’s a list of handy meals and snacks to keep in mind for your recovery period: 

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, yogurt and oatmeal are all healthy, soft choices. 
  • Lunch: Soup and a soft sandwich like peanut butter or cheese. 
  • Dinner: Pasta, quinoa or couscous with soft cooked vegetables and canned fruits.

Please avoid foods like peanut brittle and taffy. These carry the risk of chipping a tooth. 

What to Do If You Need a Root Canal: Follow These 6 Steps

If you need a root canal, you don’t need to panic. Follow the six steps above, and you’ll feel better and smile brighter in no time.