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Can you swallow with a dental dam during a root canal?



Junior member
Jun 5, 2024
Vancouver Island, Canada
I had a panic attack at my first attempt at a root canal and it was the dam that triggered it. I felt like I couldn't swallow especially after the chair was tilted back and felt like I was smothering. The endodontist would not proceed and said I should have the tooth extracted or find someone who used IV sedation. He doesn't use any sedation. I spoke with my dentist and the problem with extraction is that the molar also supports a bridge so I would also lose a second tooth so would require an implant and would involve an oral surgeon. The whole process would be very expensive and said the root canal was the best option in order to save the bridge and second tooth. I would have to travel out of town to find an endodontist that uses IV sedation and that is also quite expensive as they have to have medical staff to do the IV. My medical doctor recommended oral sedation and said he was positive it would counter my anxiety so I made another appointment with the endodontist who wasn't convinced the sedative would be sufficient but was willing to try.

My appointment is in 2 weeks and I am worried that the sedative (lorazepam/ativan) won't be enough. I am to take 1 pill an hour before the appointment and a second pill when I arrive if I am still anxious. My biggest fear is not being able to swallow with the dental dam on when my head is lowered, even before my mouth is open. Anxiety triggers the swallow reflex for me and if I can swallow I can calm myself. If I can't swallow I become agitated.

Has anyone taken a sedative for dental anxiety and has it helped enough to have a root canal? It will be between 1.5 and 2 hours and I don't think I can go that long without swallowing.
Following this post because I’m in the exact same situation! I know I need the root canal. My first one ever. But I’m afraid and concerned about everything you just stated. Hoping someone will reply.
i had one almost 6 years ago and have bad anxiety, i don't remember fully but was able to breathe (they can cut small holes in it to help, so ask if they can do that for you, that helped ease my anxiety and made it through feeling okay. Ask if you can have small breaks as well, they can take it off and put it back on at different times- raise your hand. I did it with only local. Sometimes just telling the dentist before they start what you need is enough to stop the worries- remember you are saving the tooth and it will be over before you know it. Stay strong and be brave. Breathing and affirmations also help me, along with music, use what works for you.
I am able to breathe thru my nose just fine if I can relax enough to do so but the panic feeling of having my mouth covered and not being able to swallow overwhelms me. The endo told me I could signal for breaks but the dam could not come off once he started. My doctor told me to ask him for a bit of time to get used to the dam and practice breathing before he lowered the chair as last time he lowered the chair immediately after putting the dam on and it sent me into a sudden panic.

I am really hoping the oral sedative will work to relax me enough that I won't go into panic and escape mode. I have been practicing deep breathing to relax and some people have said to try practicing swallowing while laying down and mouth open but I haven't been able to do that. At least this time I know what to expect and am counting on my determination to get this done.
Well I did it today - got thru my 1.5 hour root canal with only an oral sedative, Lorazepam (Ativan) prescribed by my medical doctor. I took 1 tablet 1 hour before appointment and another one when I got there. I was fine with the freezing but a bit worried about the dental dam as it triggered a panic attack last time. This time it didn't bother me at all as I asked the endodontist to give me a few minutes to practise breathing and swallowing with it on and I could do both just fine. He told me I could swallow whenever I wanted thru the whole procedure, which I did without having to signal for a break. This made such a difference to my comfort level that I was able to endure the rest of the drilling etc for the next hour. In my case the lorazepam was the difference as it was my anxiety that made me feel I couldn't swallow with the dam on. I was also determined not to give in to my anxiety thru breathing and relaxation but it was definitely the ativan that helped the most. I had to have a ride home and was a bit dizzy when walking for a while. Some people have a nap after. I have been home 4 hours and the freezing is out and there is just a touch of soreness on my tooth but no pain so far and my dizziness and tiredness has gone away.

Bottom Line: Yes you can swallow with a dental dam in place and even during the procedure. I'm not sure I would have figured that out if I hadn't taken a sedative first.
Congrats!!! I have a similar anxiety issue! The dentist prescribed Halcion (Triazolam). I have never tried it.
Congrats! Be proud of yourself, the mind can really get us convinced it will be hard when we find we can do it! I couldn't save my tooth and i'm sure if i had to go through another root canal it was going to be hard but would've found my way through it.