Root canals have one of the worst reputations of all dental procedures. Even though their reputation is based largely on myth, many people avoid going to the dentist for fear of being told they need a root canal. In actuality, root canals are performed to restore severely decayed teeth and prevent them from extraction. Root canals also alleviate the pain associated with severe tooth decay.
Root canals become necessary when tooth decay has reached the innermost layer of the tooth, known as the dental pulp. When this happens it causes pulpitis, which is an infection of the nerves and blood vessels that make up the dental pulp. Not only is pulpitis extremely painful, but it can eventually spread to the surrounding teeth through the blood vessels. If left untreated, it can also cause an abscess to form at the base of the tooth root.
For these reasons, the infected pulp tissue must be removed from the inside of the tooth using a root canal. During a root canal, a small hole is made in the tooth to access the inside. Then, a variety of root canal files are used to remove the infected tissue. The empty cavity is then cleaned, filled, and restored with a dental crown.
While only a dentist can tell you if a root canal is needed, here are three signs that you may have a pulp infection in need of a root canal:
Pain is one of the most obvious signs that something isn’t right. In fact, pain is often the symptom that finally convinces people to visit their dentist. Tooth pain caused by a pulp infection is generally a deep, throbbing pain that comes on suddenly and continues to get worse over time. It may also get worse when chewing or applying pressure to the affected tooth. In some cases the pain may come and go, while in others it may be constant. Tooth pain can also be accompanied by tooth sensitivity, which is a sudden, deep pain that occurs when the teeth are exposed to hot, cold, or sweet foods and beverages. Tooth sensitivity caused by a pulp infection generally tends to last even after the stimulus has been removed. Although pain is a common symptom of a pulp infection, it is important to note that some early pulp infections may not be painful and are only detected by a dental x-ray.
Another sign that you could have a pulp infection in need of a root canal is a discolored tooth that does not match its neighbors. Discoloration in a single tooth can occur when the inside of that tooth starts to die from the infection. As a result, the affected tooth may have a yellow, gray, light brown, or black tint to it. Anytime you notice a single tooth with discoloration, you should make an appointment with your dentist to determine the cause.
Although a pulp infection mainly affects the inside of the tooth, it can also have an effect on the gums as well. This is because excess bacteria from the infection can spread to the gum tissue and cause it to become infected as well. In some cases, this can cause gum disease, while in other cases, it may only affect the gum tissue surrounding the affected tooth. Anytime you have red, swollen, or tender gums, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist. Finally, pulp infections can sometimes cause pimples or discharge to form along the gum line of the affected tooth.
If you currently have severe throbbing tooth pain, a discolored tooth, and/or gum irritation, these could all be potential signs of a pulp infection. In order to prevent the infection from progressing and causing you more pain, the best course of action is to visit your local dentist. Since pulp infections do not resolve themselves on their own, the sooner you seek treatment, the better.