Gail Ingram responds to a reader who had a dental emergency (ouch!) and answers the question, “How long does swelling last after a root canal?”
“How long does swelling last? I had an emergency root canal last Friday. It’s not infected but it is still swollen. Swelling takes days to go down?”
Short answer: Days to months.
Long answer: Thanks for your question. The inflammatory process is a fascinating one. After we’ve been hurt, our bodies signal for water (from our blood, other tissues, and organs) to flood the trauma site. This cleans debris from the wound in two ways. The external weeping pushes dirt out of the body and, internally, potential toxins are diluted, inactivated, and removed by the lymph system.
Our bodies don’t know the difference between a sterile procedure (like surgery) or a saber toothed tiger bite so all trauma gets the same response. Interestingly, swelling (caused by water rushing to the site as explained above) can both help healing and hinder it. Too much swelling can decrease oxygen-rich blood from getting to the wound–blood that is required for healing. Swelling also causes pain and pain delays the healing process.
It is important to keep swelling at a minimum after a procedure. Remember R-I-C-E? Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. But, if ice is left on a wound longer than 20 minutes, blood supply to the area is reduced (cold causes the blood vessels to constrict) and healing is compromised. So don’t ice longer than 20 minutes at a time. I also recommend sleeping sitting up for any dental or facial surgery.
Normal swelling can last from days to months. Preventing swelling immediately after trauma or surgery is key to a short recovery. Drinking extra water may help in some cases but usually, we just have to wait it out. Check with your surgeon to see which pain reliever or anti-inflammatory you should be taking and be on the lookout for infection.
I wish you a speedy recovery!
Gail Ingram BSN RN