Nothing is more cringe worthy to many people than the combination of the words “root” and “canal.” People will avoid seeing a dentist like the plague with the thought of having to have this procedure done. But the technology that we have today allows us to perform this procedure safely and with very minimal pain. Typically it is just as pain free as getting a cavity filled. So there is no need to fear, but how do you know when you need a root canal?

Here are some issues that may need attention:

  • Symptoms – (we’ll go into further detail about symptoms), but if there is frequent pain, signs of infection, or swelling you may have a bigger issue that would require a root canal
  • Signs obvious to your dentist – tooth discoloration, infection drainage, or changes in the soft tissue
  • Additional testing – electric pulp testing, thermal (hot and cold), percussion, and x-rays are all possible to help identify the problem

Any diagnosis for the need of a root canal must be looked at as a complete picture. There isn’t just one symptom or one single set of symptoms that appear in each case. We will determine the need for a root canal based on all available sources, such as patient history, clinical exams, and tooth testing.

Now on to the symptoms that you (the patient) may notice or be experiencing:

  • Pain – this should be a no brainer, but having tooth pain isn’t always an indication that you are in need of a root canal. Often a tooth that is in need of the procedure never even hurts at all
  • Type of pain – throbbing, which may be similar to a heartbeat and lessen or intensify as you change positions (sitting, standing, bending over, etc.), or the discomfort is intense enough that it wakes you or you are simply unable to sleep
  • Onset and duration – the amount of time a patient may be feeling discomfort and pain can be anywhere from days, weeks, and months before getting treatment or in others it may be the first time they are experiencing any pain at all
  • Gum tenderness – swelling and tenderness of the gums can very, from a reddish area with limited tenderness to lumps along the gums. In extreme cases the swelling may extend to your face or neck. Swelling doesn’t always mean that you are in need of a root canal, but should always be taken seriously

Often the pain is spontaneous or is triggered by different stimulus and can be intermittent or continuous. Triggers can be: chewing, pressure from the tongue, or exposure to hot and cold food and beverages. Often the pain lingers even after the trigger is removed. The discomfort may fade quickly or continue for a longer period of time.

Identifying which tooth is causing the discomfort can be easy, after all, you are the one who is experiencing the pain, but you may only be able to tell the general area and not the exact tooth that is causing the problem.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is best to contact our office. Catching tooth decay and gum disease early can help you avoid turning small problems into bigger ones that require more intensive procedures, such as root canals. Contact us today for more information.