Maybe you’re experiencing constant pain in a tooth that your dentist had previously identified as having a cavity, extreme sensitivity to hot and cold in a specific tooth, or a certain tooth changing color from a normal white to a darker color. If so, you may be one of the 15 million Americans per year that end up needing a root canal treatment. Root canals get a bad reputation as being especially painful, but don’t worry! Modern root canal procedures are common, safe, and—with the right dentist—easy to recover from quickly.

What Causes A Root Canal?

Our teeth are made up of a hard outer layer, called the enamel, which surrounds a dense, spongy material called the dentin. When dental decay happens, it erodes the enamel and can let bacteria and decay spread throughout the dentin. In this case, you will need a filling—wherein your dentist will drill out the infected part of the tooth and replace it with a dental composite material. If the decay is not stopped in time, however, it can spread to the inner root of the tooth, which houses its main nerve and blood supply, called the pulp. At this point, only a root canal treatment can prevent the spread of infection and treat symptoms like pain and sensitivity.

What Is A Root Canal?

A root canal treatment is technically considered surgery, and your endodontist may fully or partially anesthetize you during treatment. During a root canal, your endodontist will use different tools to open the infected tooth (similar to a deep filling) and remove the damaged material inside. This can include the majority of the pulp, blood vessels, and nerve, which extend down into the roots of your teeth. Your endodontist will then fill the root cavities and place a temporary filling in the access cavity.

It’s normal to experience some mild pain and tenderness around the tooth in the days after your procedure, but most root canal patients report that pain reverts to minimal levels within a few days to a week after the procedure. Your dentist may advise that you take an over-the-counter pain med to help in the meantime.

Signs You Need A Root Canal

There are several root canal symptoms that can manifest over time and can be difficult to diagnose without the help of endodontic specialists. The symptoms that require a root canal can be similar to other oral conditions like a filling, dental trauma, or infection. The main reasons for a root canal usually come down to both the intensity and longevity of things like pain, sensitivity, or discoloration. Make an appointment with your endodontist if you are experiencing:

1. Damaged Or Fractured Teeth

If you’ve damaged a tooth by chipping or cracking it, the resulting opening can allow bacteria to access the inner structures of your tooth—including the root. Even if there are no outward signs of cracking, a damaged tooth can be disrupted to the point where bacteria can attack the root, necessitating a root canal.

2. Pain While Chewing Or Touching The Tooth

Persistent, concentrated pain around a single tooth can be a sign that bacteria has caused inflammation of the root cavity, putting pressure on the sensitive nerve inside the pulp. When this happens, even the slightest amount of pressure can cause pain, and will almost certainly require root canal treatment to alleviate symptoms.

3. Swollen Or Tender Gums Near The Tooth

Because the root of the tooth extends deep into the gum line, infection and bacteria can cause the surrounding gum to become swollen or tender due to the underlying erosion of the pulp. It can even cause a small “pimple” on the gum, called a “gum boil,” parulis, or abscess. These gum boils can ooze pus occasionally, causing an unpleasant taste or bad breath.

4. Swelling Around The Face Or Neck

As waste products from the infection in your tooth circulate through the many blood vessels in your face and mouth, you may notice that tissues surrounding the infected tooth in your face and neck may also become swollen as your body attempts to fight off the infection.

5. Extreme And Lasting Sensitivity To Heat And Cold

If you have a drink of cold water or a bite of hot food and feel extreme discomfort in the form of sharp pain or dull ache that lasts even after the stimulus has been removed, it can be a sign that the blood vessels in your tooth have been damaged by infection and require a root canal to treat.

6. Darkening Or Discoloration Of The Tooth

Our teeth retain their natural white color as long as there is a healthy blood supply to the tooth. Infection can damage the blood vessels in the pulp of the tooth, causing them to constrict, or die off completely, leading to changing colors like gray or even black. Even if the tooth is not sensitive or painful, a changing color should always be investigated by a dentist.

What To Do If You Suspect You Need A Root Canal

If you’ve been experiencing any of the symptoms above, or simply feel like there’s something “off” in your mouth, it’s always best to contact your endodontist before the problem gets worse and potentially becomes harder to treat. Endodontists are specialists trained to diagnose and treat problems around the gumline and surrounding tissues and can get you on the road to recovery quickly and safely. If you are looking for a qualified endodontist to talk to about a potential root canal, contact Advanced Endodontics of Nevada for a preliminary consultation. Our friendly and professional staff are here when you need us, and we’re ready to address any of your concerns about root canals.