There’s no dental procedure more dreaded than the root canal, but the good news is that with modern techniques and local anesthesia, root canals are no more uncomfortable than getting a dental filling. Root canals are needed whenever damage or decay reaches the pulp at the center of a tooth. This tissue is rich in blood vessels and nerve endings, so infection in the pulp can be very painful. A root canal allows us to preserve your natural tooth, which is preferable to extraction and replacement with a bridge or dental implant.
During a root canal, your tooth is opened up by removing the top, which allows us to access the inside. The pulp is removed and the empty tooth chamber is cleaned and disinfected with an antibiotic, if needed. The chamber is filled with a rubber-like material to replace the pulp, then the tooth is resealed, often with a dental crown.
There’s usually no doubt when a root canal is needed—even if you don’t know that your tooth requires a root canal, you’ll know that something is wrong with it. It’s important to get prompt attention because the symptoms will only worsen with time.
Here are three signs that you need a root canal:
1. Severe Toothache
When the pulp in your tooth is infected, the pain is often unbearable. Every bite you take when you eat is excruciating because it puts pressure on your infected tooth. Tooth sensitivity is another common symptom, with intense toothaches caused by hot and cold sensations; this pain may continue even after the stimulus has been removed. Your gums may also be affected. They are likely to be tender and swollen near the infected tooth.
If the infection is left untreated, swelling can spread to your face and neck. Patients may use anti-inflammatory pain relievers for relief, but this is only a temporary fix. The only long-term solution for an infected pulp is to get a root canal or extract the affected tooth.
2. Small Bumps on the Gums
As the infection progresses and spreads, one or more periodontal abscesses may appear. These are small, pimple-like bumps on the gums. Don’t try to pop and drain these bumps yourself, as it can spread infection further. Once you have a root canal and your infection is under control, these bumps will resolve.
3. Darkened Tooth
When the pulp in your tooth is dying or already dead, the tooth can become darkened, appearing gray or brown. If you have a tooth that has started to look darker than the others surrounding it, it’s a sign that a root canal is needed. Sometimes this kind of discoloration resolves after a root canal treatment, but if not, internal bleaching can be used to whiten the tooth.