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Is that toothache you’re experiencing just a toothache or a sign of something more serious?

With more than 15 million root canal treatments performed every year, root canals may be more common than you think.

The health of our teeth is closely related to our overall health so it’s important to seek treatment for serious dental issues as soon as possible.

Left untreated, the infection from a root canal can even result in death.

So, how do you know if you need a root canal?

Here we’ll discuss the 7 of the common signs you need a root canal.

What Is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a procedure dentist use to save your tooth so you won’t have to have it pulled due to infection and decay.

Your dentist will:

  • Remove the infection and decay
  • Clean and disinfect the inside of the tooth
  • Fill and seal it
  • Restore the tooth with a crown or filling

Root canals are important because they are responsible for saving millions of teeth every year.

1. A Chipped or Cracked Tooth

When you chip or crack your tooth, the space created allows bacteria to set in the inner areas of your tooth and gradually causes infection and decay.

Many chipped and cracked teeth are the result of some form of trauma, like an accident while playing sports or biting on something too hard for your teeth.

If you seek treatment for a chipped or cracked tooth immediately, you likely can avoid a full-blown infection and the need for root canal therapy.

2. Loose Tooth

If you are experiencing pain in a tooth that is also loose, it could be one of the signs that you need a root canal.

The infection under the tooth causes damage to your bone, resulting in a loosening of your tooth.

3. Discoloration

While discoloration may be the result of a tooth stain, it’s can also be a clear sign that you might need a root canal.

In many cases, discoloration or darkening of the teeth is a sign of tooth decay.

If a single tooth starts to darken or a dark spot appears on one of your teeth, it may be a sign that there is a more serious problem.

4. Tooth and Gum Sensitivity

While tooth sensitivity is a sign of gingivitis, it’s also a sign of infection and decay that can only be resolved with a root canal.

Once your tooth is infected, the infection will spread to surrounding areas, including your gums. This will cause sensitivity in both the tooth and gums.

The pressure of chewing and biting will result in sensitivity and pain, as will eating hot and cold foods.

Tooth sensitivity is a warning sign that the infection has reached the nerves inside of your tooth.

5. Swollen Gums

Swollen gums are one of the most common signs of needing a root canal.

The infection in your tooth affects your gums, making them tender, red and swollen.

You might also notice your gums are quick to bleed during eating or brushing your teeth.

You may also notice canker sores or “gum pimples,” which are pus-filled blisters on your infected gums.

6. Drainage

Sometimes the infection inside the tooth drains into the gum, causing a bump called a periodontal abscess.

The symptoms of a periodontal abscess are:

  • Red, shiny, swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • An unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Swollen face, near the abscess
  • Sudden, throbbing pain that doesn’t get better
  • Pain while laying down

An abscess is a reason to seek dental help immediately because in some cases, an untreated abscess you may find it difficult to open your mouth or have trouble with breathing and swallowing.

7. Persistent Pain

Overall, the main sign of needing a root canal is persistent pain.

The pain of an infected tooth can range from a dull ache to an intense and powerful throbbing that cannot be ignored.

All of the other symptoms added up cause this persistent pain and it will not be fully resolved without the proper treatment.

What If I Have No Symptoms?

Occasionally, although you need a root canal, there may be no root canal symptoms. This happens in cases of mild decay or when the infection has not yet reached the nerve.

In these instances, your dentist can see the problem you cannot.

This generally happens during a routine check-up and is a reason why it’s important to maintain your scheduled check-ups.

In these cases, if your dentist suspects tooth decay, he or she will use the following tests to determine if a root canal is necessary:

  • X-ray the area
  • Thermal testing to test nerve sensitivity
  • Electronic testing of the inner pulp
  • Tooth probing

Once the tooth decay and infection are confirmed, your dentist will advise you on the recommended treatment options, which may include root canal treatment.

A Word of Caution

Many people won’t have a root canal procedure done because of various root canal myths they have heard over the years.

Three of the most common myths are:

Root canal treatment is the most painful dental procedure. 

Modern medicine has made it possible to have all kinds of procedures, from non-invasive to invasive without experiencing excruciating pain.

Pain management is a part of every dental procedure and your dentist will guide you on what to do to reduce your pain as much as possible.

Not only that, the pain from your tooth infection and decay will be eliminated with root canal therapy.

Root canal treatment causes serious illness.

This myth has been discredited by the medical community for a while now.

Root canal therapy does not cause serious illnesses.

There has been no correlation between root canal therapy and serious or chronic illnesses.

Root canal treatment is unnecessary, it’s better to pull the tooth.

Saving your natural tooth, when possible, is always the best option.

It’s important to seek treatment because an untreated infection will spread to other areas of your mouth and body, causing serious complications.

Signs You Need a Root Canal: The Bottom Line

If you are experiencing signs you need a root canal like swollen gums, painful teeth, sensitivity, abscess, discoloration or have recently chipped or cracked your tooth, you might need a root canal.

See your dentist right away so you can resolve the problem as soon as possible.

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