The concept of root canal treatment as a painful procedure largely stems from the fact that people who require root canal treatment are quite often, but not always, in pain. Also, if you watch too much of media, in the American movies, people who don’t want to do something, say, “I’d rather have a root canal treatment”.
Nobody wants to have a complex and intricate dental procedure carried out; however, root canal treatment is aimed at the alleviation of pain. People who come to me requiring root canal treatment are frequently in some level of discomfort and, quite often, in a lot of pain. What I do is, administer a local anaesthetic, make sure they are completely numb, and then I go ahead and treat the problem – be that to remove an inflamed nerve which is causing throbbing pain or to start the treatment for an infection which is causing an abscess. Now, in the case of an inflamed nerve, that treats you again for the pain, because if I remove the source of the pain, then the discomfort afterwards is largely done. In the case of infections and abscess, it may take some time for the treatment to take effect. But this is the body’s natural healing process. And once we start that, the pain will die over the next day or so – possibly two or three days in case of very severe infections. But root canal treatment, by itself, should not be painful.
I myself have had a root canal, and the reason I became a dentist was back in the 80s, when I was in school, away from home, playing rugby. I spent a night walking the floors of the place I would stay, with agony in my lower left jaw. The next day I was taken to a dentist in Blackrock, in Dublin, as it happened. I walked through his door in pain. He talked to me, reassured me, gave me an injection that took away the pain, and started the root canal treatment. That was the end of the pain. That’s 27 years ago and I’ve never had discomfort in my tooth since.