A root canal is a dental procedure to treat and save a badly decayed or infected tooth. Inside each tooth, beneath the white enamel and a hard layer called dentin, is a soft tissue called pulp. However, there are factors your dentist considers before performing the procedure, such as the damage’s severity and the surrounding teeth’ overall health.
So, if you’re wondering, “How do I know if I need a root canal or a filling?” read on to learn more.
What Is a Root Canal?
As mentioned, root canal therapy aims to save a severely damaged tooth instead of extracting it.
Inside each tooth, beneath the white enamel and a hard layer called dentin, is a soft tissue called pulp. This tissue contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue, which help grow the root of your tooth during its development. A tooth’s pulp can become inflamed, infected, or dead due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the same tooth, large fillings, a crack or chip, or trauma to the face. If left untreated, the tissue surrounding the tooth can become infected, and abscesses may form, leading to severe pain and potentially more serious health complications.
During a root canal procedure, your dentist removes the diseased or damaged pulp, then cleans and seals the inside of the tooth, stopping the infection and preventing it from spreading to other teeth. A tooth without its nerve can function normally and can be kept indefinitely. After the treatment, the tooth is ‘dead’ as it will no longer be sensitive to hot or cold, but it can still chew and bite down, just like your other teeth.
Despite its reputation, a root canal is usually not more painful than a filling. With modern techniques and anesthetics, most patients report being comfortable during the procedure.
How Do I Know if I Need a Root Canal or a Filling
You may need a filling if the damage or decay is minimal to moderate and hasn’t reached the pulp (the innermost part of the tooth). Symptoms can include a toothache, sensitivity to hot or cold, and visible holes or pits in your teeth. A filling is used to repair these issues, restoring the tooth’s function and preventing further decay.
On the other hand, you may need a root canal if the damage or decay is extensive and has reached the tooth’s pulp, causing an infection or inflammation. This can result in severe toothache, prolonged sensitivity to heat or cold, discoloration of the tooth, swelling, and tenderness in the nearby gums.
What Causes Can Lead to a Root Canal?
A severe infection of a single tooth is the primary reason for root canal therapy. This could occur due to tooth decay reaching deep into your tooth, a severe crack, a diseased tooth, or damage from an old filling. In some instances, tooth trauma, like a broken tooth, can also cause damage, even if the tooth doesn’t crack.
When Is a Root Canal Needed?
Here are some warning signs that suggest you need a root canal and some advice on how to proceed:
Persistent Tooth Pain
Persistent tooth pain is often a key indicator that you may need a root canal. This pain can vary in intensity from mild to severe and may be constant or intermittent. It can also manifest as a throbbing sensation, sometimes mimicking a “heartbeat” rhythm, especially when eating, chewing, or putting pressure on the tooth. In many cases, the pain might disappear temporarily, only to return later, which can lead to a cycle of discomfort.
It’s crucial to note that while persistent tooth pain is a common sign, it does not always mean a root canal is necessary. Tooth pain can be caused by various issues, from simple cavities to gum disease. However, if the pain persists over several weeks, it’s essential to get your tooth checked by a dental professional.
Prolonged and extreme sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures in your tooth can also indicate that you may need a root canal. This sensitivity often presents as lingering pain after consuming hot or cold food or drink. Additionally, it can manifest as severe discomfort when biting down or applying pressure to the tooth. The pain can even be triggered by stimuli that didn’t previously cause discomfort, such as sweet foods or cold air. These symptoms occur because the pulp of the tooth, which contains nerves and blood vessels, is inflamed or infected.
Tender, Swollen Gums
Infected pulp tissue can cause the surrounding gum area to swell. This can sometimes be quite noticeable with facial swelling and painful to touch. If you suspect a swelling not due to an evident gum injury, it may be time to make an appointment with your dentist. If left untreated, this could cause tooth abscess or loss of tooth.
An infected tooth pulp may cause tooth discoloration. If you notice a particular tooth darkening, and there’s no recent trauma or reason for it to change color, consider it a red flag for a potential root canal treatment.
When these signs appear, it’s your body calling for help. You should promptly contact a dental professional who could accurately diagnose your condition, primarily through an x-ray. If a root canal is indeed needed, it can be a relief. Contrary to some myths, modern root canal treatments are as comfortable as filling and, more importantly, can save your natural dead tooth.
Root Canal Procedure
Step 1: Preparation Phase
Your dentist begins by thoroughly examining your tooth using dental X-rays to determine the extent of the damage. Then, they will administer local anesthesia to numb the tooth and surrounding area before the procedure. A dental rubber dam, a rubber sheet, is placed around the infected tooth. It helps isolate the tooth and keep it clean and dry during the procedure.
Step 2: Procedure Phase
Your dentist starts by opening the tooth to reach the infected pulp. This is typically done on the crown of the tooth. The infected pulp is carefully removed from the pulp chamber and the root canals using special tools. This process is known as pulpectomy. Once removed, the inside of your tooth is disinfected.
After cleaning and disinfection, the empty root canals are filled with a biocompatible material known as gutta-percha. A temporary filling material is used to close the opening created at the start of the procedure. This helps protect the tooth until a permanent restoration, like a crown, is implemented.
Step 3: Recovery Phase
The anesthesia will gradually wear off once the root canal surgery is complete. You may feel some soreness and sensitivity in the treated area, which is normal in an effective treatment. Most dentists prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers to help manage discomfort after the procedure. A follow-up dental appointment will be scheduled to monitor the healing process and to place a permanent dental crown or other restoration to strengthen and protect the tooth.
Remember, each patient and their situation is unique, so the root canal procedure can slightly differ based on the complexity of the infection and the affected tooth’s location. Thus, following your dentist’s advice is essential.
How Can You Prevent Root Canals?
- Effective Oral Hygiene: Brush your teeth twice daily using fluoride-based toothpaste. Especially before going to bed. Floss regularly to remove food residues and plaque stuck between your teeth and under the gumline. Use an antimicrobial mouthwash to kill bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease.
- Healthy Diet: Maintain a balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables for natural cleaning and better oral health. Limit the intake of sugary foods and drinks, which can accelerate tooth decay. Drink plenty of water during the day to keep your mouth moist and to dilute acids produced by bacteria.
- Regular Dental Checkups: Schedule regular dental checkups, ideally every six months. This allows your dentist to examine your oral health regularly and catch potential issues before they become serious. Get your teeth professionally cleaned during your visit. This can help remove plaque and tartar buildup that regular brushing and flossing might have missed.
- Avoid Harmful Habits: Stop smoking. Nicotine stains your teeth and increases the risk of gum disease and oral cancer. Wear a mouthguard while playing sports to prevent injury that could lead to tooth damage.
Prevention is the best approach to help ensure your teeth remain healthy and strong. These small lifestyle changes can significantly impact your overall dental health in a positive way.
Book a Consultation With Kids and Family Dentistry for a Root Canal Treatment
Understanding the signs of needing a root canal can make a real difference. It allows early intervention that helps preserve your natural tooth. Don’t neglect any concerning symptoms. Maintain your radiant smile with high-quality oral hygiene and regular check-ups.
If you have a badly damaged tooth and are considering root canal therapy, call us today to schedule an appointment. We have a team of dentists with years of experience performing this dental treatment. Our clinic has state-of-the-art technology that has been helping us provide high-quality dental care services to our patients for years.