One type of restorative dental procedure that just about everyone has heard of are root canals. Even though most people have heard about root canals, not everyone is familiar with what happens during a root canal and when they are necessary. First off, root canals become necessary when the pulp tissue inside the tooth becomes infected. Severe tooth decay is the most common cause of a pulp infection, also known as pulpitis, however fractures and faulty restorations can also allow bacteria to infect the inside of the tooth.
Once bacteria enters the inside of the tooth, it will continue to progress the infection and can spread to the surrounding teeth. It can also cause the affected tooth to fall out. In order to prevent these things from happening, a root canal is performed to remove the infected tissue. Therefore during a root canal, everything inside the tooth is removed including the pulp, tooth nerve, and blood vessels. The empty pulp chamber and root canals will then be cleaned with a microbial solution to prevent future infection.
Some pulp infections may not produce symptoms and are only diagnosed through dental x-rays. However, many pulp infections cause symptoms. Although a diagnosis can only be made by your dentist, some symptoms that can indicate a pulp infection and the need for a root canal include:
Tooth pain is by far the most noticeable symptom that often convinces people to visit their dentist. Pain associated with a pulp infection is generally described as being a deep throbbing in the tooth and jaw. Pain caused by pulpitis also tends to come on somewhat suddenly and progressively gets worse over time. This pain can be constant or it may come and go. The pain can also increase while chewing, biting, or applying pressure to the affected tooth. In addition to general tooth pain, pulpitis can also cause pain in the form of prolonged tooth sensitivity. This means that you will experience a sharp pain when exposing the tooth to hot, cold, or sweet that will last even after the stimulus has been removed. Although tooth pain is a common symptom of pulpitis, it can also have other causes as well. There are also causes of pulpitis that may not produce pain and are only detectable through a dental x-ray.
In addition to having a painful tooth, you may also notice that the affected tooth is a different color than all the other teeth. Since pulpitis infects the pulp tissue and ultimately causes the tissue to die, it can make the affected tooth appear yellow, gray, light brown, or even black. A single discolored tooth should always be examined by your dentist, especially if it is accompanied by pain and/or tooth sensitivity.
While pulpitis is an infection that occurs inside of the tooth, it can also affect the gum tissue surrounding the affected tooth. This is because pulp infections are ultimately caused by bacteria, which can spread from the inside of the tooth to the surrounding gum tissue. This can cause the gums to become red, inflamed, or tender. In some cases, it can also cause discharge from the gums or pimples that form along the edge of the tooth. When the infection continues to spread through the gums, it can also cause gum disease to form throughout the mouth.
Overall, tooth pain, a single discolored tooth, and/or gum problems around the affected tooth can all be potential signs of a pulp infection that requires a root canal. Even alone, any one of these symptoms could indicate a possible need for a root canal. However, they may also be able to be treated with other dental treatments. The bottom line is that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is recommended to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.