How Do You Know If You Need A Root Canal Treatment?
A root canal treatment is a restorative procedure used to save a tooth from extraction. It involves removing infected tissue from inside a tooth, using a small hole in the crown and very fine instruments.
What Does a Root Canal Treat?
Inside every tooth is soft tissue, known as the pulp. This soft tissue supplies blood to the tooth, and protects the tooth nerve. When this becomes infected, the tooth can start to rot from the inside out.
A root canal treatment is performed to remove the pulp from the tooth, refill the tooth with a synthetic pulp, and restore the tooth to full function.
By the time a root canal treatment is necessary, the only alternative is typically to extract the tooth. Root canals are something of a last attempt to retain a tooth in the jaw, as it’s often better for oral health.
Signs You Need a Root Canal
Infections can be tricky things. Sometimes, they cause symptoms that are very obvious. Other times they can lie undetected until a clinical examination reveals them.
We can break down signs you need a root canal into two categories: those you can detect yourself, and those which need a dentist to see.
Signs a patient may be able to identify
The most obvious sign is sensitivity and pain of the infected tooth. This is usually severe by the time most patients decide it’s necessary to see a dentist.
This pain and sensitivity is caused by the infection interfering with the tooth nerve. As the soft tissue becomes infected, it becomes inflamed. Inflamed tissue puts pressure on the nerve.
Other outward signs you may notice include:
- Cracked or damaged teeth
- Tenderness, swelling, or bleeding of the gum around the tooth
- Abscesses or legions on the gum around the tooth
- Darkening or discolouration of the affected tooth
Signs a dentist can see
Sometimes the infection can become quite advanced without causing significant pain or discomfort.
In these cases, only examination by a dentist will reveal an infection.
- An x-ray examination can reveal an infection as dark spots around the roots of a tooth
- Pimples on the gum that serve as drains for excess pus caused by the infection
- Slight discolouration that is only clear under close examination
Benefits of a Root Canal Treatment
In general, it is better to leave a tooth in the mouth than to extract it. Teeth aren’t just used for chewing and biting; their presence in the jaw helps give the jaw shape and function, as well as keep other teeth in their place.
That said, there are methods of replacing a missing tooth. However, root canals are cheaper and quicker than removing a tooth and replacing it with either a bridge or dental implant.
Do Root Canals Hurt?
A common belief is that a root canal is a particularly painful procedure. This is not the case.
The treatment itself is done with local anaesthetic and causes no pain or discomfort. Post-operative pain is well managed with over the counter pain medication. Occasionally, a stronger prescription will be necessary — but this is rare.
Most of the pain associated with a root canal is actually pre-treatment. The pressure and infection of the tissue around the tooth nerve can be severely painful. The whole goal of a root canal is to alleviate this pain — not add to it!
What Happens to My Tooth After a Root Canal?
Technically, the tooth is now dead. It will remain in place and functional for many years — possibly the rest of your life — but without sensitivity.
Occasionally a tooth that has had a root canal will crack or break years later, and finally need replacing. With proper oral hygiene this can be avoided as long as possible.
Alternatives to Root Canals
As stated above, the only real alternative to a root canal is to remove the tooth. The infection must be removed, and the only way that can be done is by removing the pulp, or the entire tooth.
Sometimes a tooth is so infected or decayed that a root canal isn’t even an option, and only extraction is available to the patient.
Left untreated, an infected tooth will become more painful, and ultimate the infection will spread to the adjacent teeth. It could even lead to periodontitis, where the infection eats at the jaw bone itself.