When Teeth Pain Means You Need a Root Canal
If the cause of your teeth pain is serious decay or infection in the tooth pulp, your dentist may recommend a root canal. A root canal is a multi-step dental procedure that involves removing the infected tooth pulp (and sometimes the nerve) from a tooth, and sealing it to protect against future teeth pain.
The term “root canal” also refers to the actual passages within the tooth between the pulp and the tooth roots. The root canals contain nerves and blood vessels. Once an adult tooth has emerged from the gums, the tooth’s nerve doesn’t serve a specific purpose other than sensing heat, cold, and other stimuli. Removing a nerve in an infected tooth is part of a standard procedure to treat teeth pain caused by decay or infection in the tooth pulp. Risk factors for infection in the tooth pulp include severe tooth decay, trauma to the tooth, recent dental procedures, large fillings, and cracks or chips in the teeth. (1), (2)
Signs that You Need a Root Canal for Teeth Pain
Not all types of teeth pain are indications for a root canal. But signs of infection severe enough to require a root canal include:
- Serious teeth pain when eating or when you put pressure on the area
- Teeth pain and sensitivity to hot or cold that lingers after the hot or cold stimuli have been removed
- A small, pimple-like bump on the gums near the area of teeth pain
- Darkening of the tooth
- Tenderness or swelling in the gums near the area of teeth pain (1), (2)
How a Root Canal Works to Ease Teeth Pain
- Scoping It Out: Before your actual root canal procedure, your dentist will take x-rays to assess how badly the tooth is infected.
- Keeping You Calm: The first step in the actual procedure is a local anesthetic to numb the area and prevent teeth pain during the procedure.
- Diving In: The dentist makes an opening, usually in the crown of the tooth, and uses special tools to clean out the decayed pulp.
- Cleaning Up: In some cases, your dentist may leave the tooth open so additional material can drain out of the tooth before it is filled and sealed. Some dentists will put a temporary filling in the tooth to protect the area while the infected material drains away completely. (1), (2)
After the Root Canal: Sealing the Deal on Tooth Pain
At your next appointment (usually in a few days or up to a week), a special composite filling will be placed in the center of the tooth. A tooth that has undergone a root canal almost always needs a crown or some other tooth restoration to protect what remains of the tooth and guard against future tooth pain. (1), (2)
Oral Health and Tooth Pain after a Root Canal
After a root canal, you may experience some tooth pain and sensitivity. Be sure to follow a regular oral care routine to maintain your crown and avoid future tooth pain. If you notice increased tooth sensitivity after a root canal, try using soft-bristled toothbrushes and oral care products designed specifically for sensitive teeth. (1), (2)