It can be such a scary experience to feel tooth pain and be unsure of the cause. I work with patients every day who have ignored a toothache, thinking it will go away, only to come into the clinic too late, once it has progressed into a severe infection. At Lawson Dentistry it is my job to educate my patients so that you can take a proactive approach towards your own personal health and dental care. Root canal infections are some of the most common and preventable oral health problems, but the early symptoms can be difficult to detect.

If you have never had a root canal infection before it is important to know the signs and symptoms so you understand what to look for, in order to get the treatment you need right away. In most cases, tooth pain will not go away on its own, and it is likely to worsen without medical intervention. That is why I want to share the top 7 signs and symptoms that could indicate you have a root canal infection.

What is a Root Canal

A root canal is a type of serious tooth infection that is most often caused by bacteria. Root canals infect the deep pulp or root of your tooth and cause the tooth’s inner tissue to become irritated and inflamed. The root is very close to the nerves around your jaw and when a tooth root becomes infected, it can be extremely painful and even dangerous.

Over time, the infection can eventually cause the tooth to die. In order to avoid the spread of infection to surrounding teeth or into the jawbone we may need to extract it completely. However, with root canal therapy we can address the abscess/infection and preserve your smile.

At Lawson Dentistry, we offer emergency root canal therapy in order to preserve the existing tooth. Root canal infections should be treated immediately to relieve your pain, drain the abscess and prevent further infection or tooth loss. In my experience, I have found that a tooth can most often be saved when the patient comes in early enough for treatment.

Root Canal Causes

There are many different ways root canal infections can form. They can be the result of injury, poor oral hygiene, or a diet high in sweets. Sometimes, the inner tissue of your teeth can even become infected due to clenching or grinding.

However, root canals most often form as a result of an untreated cavity. Root canals can happen at any age and sometimes, it feels like they occur out of nowhere. Root canal infections are never a pleasant surprise and it is important to recognize the early warning signs of these painful infections.

Quiz: Signs You Need Root Canal Treatment

1. Do You Have Tooth Pain?

The most common and widely reported symptom of a root canal is persistent tooth pain. If your pain lasts for over 48h with no improvement, schedule an appointment with our team. It is best to determine the cause of your tooth pain, even if it is not a root canal infection, tooth pain is always a good indication that it’s time to stop by the clinic.

Tooth pain can occur while chewing, speaking, or eating certain foods, it can also be a constant, unrelenting pain that feels as though it radiates through your jaw. Tooth pain, whether intermittent or constant is a cause for concern. Try to identify which tooth is causing pain and let us know during your visit.

2. Are Your Teeth Sensitive to Hot or Cold?

My patients often mention tooth sensitivity as a symptom that they did not expect to be connected to their root canal. But this is really a very good indication that the inner nerve in the tooth root is inflamed. This is because, when your tooth is infected it will likely have a weakened outer layer, called the enamel. It can also have holes in the exterior of the tooth from cavities. This makes your tooth very vulnerable and much more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures as well as to touch. This can be a very uncomfortable sharp pain and it indicates a possible root canal.

3. Do You Have Swelling In Your Mouth?

Root canal infections can cause localized swelling directly around your tooth and gums, however, this inflammation can also affect your lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes indicate an infection in the body if you notice swelling near your teeth, face, or neck, contact our clinic for a thorough consultation.

4. Do You Have Bad Breath?

One less noticeable symptom of a root canal is having bad breath. Bad breath on its own could also be a sign of gingivitis, however, bad breath indicates that there is bacterial overgrowth in your mouth. Harmful, cavity-causing bacteria are often the main culprits behind root canal infections and as a result of these excess bacterial toxins, your breath can change and begin to smell bad.

5. Do You Have a Fever?

In some cases, patients actually develop a fever as a result of their root canal infection. This can happen when the infection has seriously progressed and formed an abscess underneath your tooth. Your immune system responds and tries to kill the harmful bacteria and as a result, you develop a fever.

6. Do You Have Discharge From Your Teeth?

When you do not get treatment right away, your root canal can form an abscess filled with bacteria and pus beneath the root of your tooth. This can make the infection more complicated to treat because it has progressed so far.

One somewhat shocking indication that you need dental intervention immediately is when you notice visible pus and discharge to leak out through your gums. Patients normally report having a foul taste in their mouths, located around the area of infection. This is the taste of the discharge and if you experience this you should inform your dentist immediately.

7. Do You Have Pimples on the Gums?

If you notice a white, yellow or green pimple appear on your gumline (with or without swelling) it could be the first sign of an abscess forming as a result of your root canal. This bacterial pus needs to be drained by a dental professional. If not, it can spread to your bloodstream and other parts of your body, causing serious illness.

Root Canal Treatment Options

In my experience as a dentist over the past 10 years, I have heard many misconceptions about root canal surgery. The truth is that root canals are fairly easy to treat. Contrary to popular belief, the procedure, (called endodontic treatment) is not painful at all.

I always administer local anesthetic to ensure your comfort and relaxation. If you have anxiety we can also offer nitrous oxide or oral sedation to help you enter a calm and relaxed state. Unfortunately, root canal treatment often has an undeserved reputation as uncomfortable. However, I can attest from having two done myself, the treatment is in fact quite comfortable. The procedure involves removing the infected tissue from the tooth, followed by a thorough cleaning and sterilization of the interior.

We then add a restorative filling and cap the tooth with a dental crown. We use crowns because they completely cover the visible portion of the teeth. They can be custom designed to ensure your tooth looks natural. These crowns are very durable and will protect your weakened tooth. If root canals are left for too long without treatment, it is likely you will require a tooth extraction.

Root Canal Prevention

I want to emphasize, the best way to prevent future root canals is to care for your teeth. Eat healthy, non-sugary foods, and stay safe when playing high-impact sports, wear a mouthguard.

Brush and floss your teeth 2-3 times a day and visit our clinic every 6 months for check-ups. Lastly, if you have had a root canal before, be extra careful to take care of your affected tooth. Be sure your crown is up to date and the fillings are all intact. Your tooth will be more fragile after your procedure and it is very important to protect it, in order to prevent breakage or fracture in the future.

Visit Lawson Dentistry

I opened my family clinic, Lawson Dentistry, in order to help my patients and provide a reliable, safe and educational dental practice. I help patients suffering from root canals, injuries, tooth loss and much more, every day so that they can feel confident in their smiles again. I am so proud to be able to come to work with my compassionate colleagues, who serve patients of all ages in Urbandale, IA, Johnston, Grimes, Waukee, and all surrounding communities. If you think you have a root canal, I would be more than happy to schedule a consultation. Just call the Lawson Dentistry office today at (515) 278-4366.