Can I Work Out After a Root Canal? Assessing the Risk
“Can I work out after a root canal?”
Chances are, if you’ve never had severe dental work done, that’s a question you never thought you’d ask. But those who’ve gone under the dental knife (or drill, as the case may be) know that strenuous exercise afterward can lead to unexpected consequences. So, should you work out after a root canal – and if not, how long should you wait?
The Anatomy of a Tooth
When you think of a tooth, you probably think of the hard enamel that mashes your food into a swallowable paste. But actually, each tooth extends into your gum. Moreover, they’re all alive, at least on the inside.
See, the enamel of your tooth covers a layer of dentin, a porous material that leads directly to the roots. Dentin is what carries sensation throughout your teeth – why your teeth can sense hot, cold, and pain, for instance. 1
Beneath the dentin is a pulp layer, a soft, mushy area packed with nerves and blood vessels. These are responsible for providing the feeling within your teeth. Like anywhere else in the body, the blood vessels carry oxygen and keep your teeth healthy from inside out. 1
The procedure we call a “root canal” refers to a part of your tooth: the root canal itself. At the bottom of each tooth sit two prongs that jut into your jaw and hold your teeth in place. Like the visible portion of your tooth, these two prongs are comprised of an outer layer of enamel, which surrounds a layer of dentin that wraps around an inner pulp filled with nerves and blood vessels. The inner portion of these prongs – your root canals – provides a path for nerves and blood vessels to reach inside your tooth. 1
What is a Root Canal?
It may surprise you to learn that adult humans don’t need the inside of their teeth – so long as their teeth are fully developed. This is because adult teeth can continue to be nourished and kept healthy by surrounding tissues. As such, if you get a cavity or bacterial infection that eats into the pulp of your teeth, your dentist may prescribe a root canal to treat the issue. 2
Simply put, a root canal is a quick procedure that removes bacteria and inflamed or infected pulp from the inside of your tooth’s root canals. A root canal aims to remove diseased tissue, clean and disinfect the inside of the tooth, and then fill and seal it off. And unlike the horror stories of old, a modern root canal treatment is more like getting a filling that eliminates infection and pain. 2
What to Expect After a Root Canal
When you undergo a root canal, your dentist will put you under anesthesia to eliminate the pain during the procedure. But afterward, you’ll likely experience soreness or numbness in your mouth for a few hours. However, that shouldn’t stop you from going right back to your life. Barring unforeseen circumstances, most people can return to work or school the same or next day. 2
But as you return to life in the days after your root canal, you may also experience mild pain or discomfort, especially when you chew. Your dentist may prescribe you something for pain relief or may simply tell you to stick with over-the-counter treatments such as ibuprofen. Depending on what type of pain medications you end up taking, be sure to adjust your day accordingly, as some pain medications can make you drowsy or unsafe to drive. 3
Can I Work Out After a Root Canal?
So, now that we understand what a root canal is, it’s time to address your pinnacle question: “Can I work out after a root canal?”
For the most part, the answer is yes – though you may not want to hit the gym the same day. The reason is simple: it all comes down to your anesthesia (and the fact that you just had a medical procedure done).
Anesthesia Can Make Working Out Unsafe
Depending on your oral surgeon and what kind of anesthesia you’re given, you probably won’t want to work out immediately after your root canal. Common types of anesthesia may include: 4
- Oral sedatives such as Valium, which wear off in a matter of hours
- Nitrous oxide (laughing gas), which usually wears off quickly after the procedure
- Topical anesthesia such as lidocaine, which typically wears off within 2-4 hours
- Narcotic analgesics like codeine or hydrocodone, which wears off between 4-12 hours after the procedure, depending on the dose
Each of these affects the body in different ways. For instance, drugs like Valium make you sleepy and relaxed and may also help with the pain. And many oral sedatives, as well as laughing gas and topical anesthesia, leave you awake during the procedure. 4 5
With some oral sedatives and topical anesthesia, you may be cleared to return to work or school after your root canal. But working out is typically not recommended, as some drugs can leave you feeling “out of it,” depress your breathing, or make you dizzy. And if you’ve had any narcotic sedative, it’s probably best to wait until the day after your procedure to start pumping iron for the drug to leave your system. 4
Additionally, if your surgeon prescribes any pain relief aside from over-the-counter drugs after your operation, it’s best not to work out until you know how the drugs will affect you.
Can I Work Out After a Root Canal: What Did Your Doctor Say?
When it comes to working out after any procedure, let alone an anesthesia-filled root canal, the most significant deciding factor should be your doctor’s advice. After a major procedure like a root canal, chances are, your body will tell you to take it easy anyway. 6
Your doctor may also recommend that you avoid any strenuous activity, as sudden, jarring movements may dislodge any blood clots, knock a loose filling or crown around, or cause you to feel dizzy and uncoordinated. 6
After all, you’ve just had a root canal! If anything warrants a break from the gym, it’s a day spent under the knife.
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