Signs That You Need a Root Canal Procedure


Root canal treatment is a procedure to treat a tooth that has suffered irreversible damage to the tooth nerve. This damage may have been brought about by decay or trauma to the nerve. Common causes of root canal damage are as follows:

  • Tooth decay has penetrated through the tooth enamel and the dentin to invade the nerve and pulp within the root canals and chambers.
  • A tooth has become infected or abscessed due to unchecked tooth decay.
  • Chipped or broken teeth allow the nerve of the tooth to become exposed.
  • Age can cause the tooth to slowly die.
  • Past trauma that went untreated or did not require treatment at the time may have progressed to the point of requiring a root canal treatment.


Root canal treatments are essential dental services in being able to prolong the life and use of the tooth. If these serious issues are left unchecked, it can cause abscesses, infections may spread to other teeth or the mouth,  and other oral and dental problems can arise.

But how can you and your dentist tell if you need this done?

The Signs You Need a Root Canal

Firstly, pay attention to any pain or symptoms that you might have. Your dentist will question you during your checkups whether or not you’ve experienced any sensitivities or pain, and you must be ready to answer him. Then, the dentist will take a peep in your mouth…

How You Know:

  • Severe tooth pain, which often persists for extended periods of time. Pain may interrupt your sleep. This pain is due to the pulp (nerve) dying or becoming infected or abscessed at the tip of the tooth. As anyone who has had a toothache can attest, there are few things in life more painful than a severe toothache!
  • Pain radiating into your jaw, ear, or temple areas
  • Pain when biting down or when touching the tooth. This pain will be due to the inflammation or infection at the root tip, which feels the pressure of being pressed down into it’s socket. This can irritate the root area.
  • Sensitivity to heat is a classic sign of tooth pulp being severely damaged
  • Sensitivity to cold, even after the stimuli has gone, such as a glass of ice water. It is not uncommon for teeth to be sensitive to cold, such as the sharp sensitivity after eating a spoonful of ice cream, but normal sensitivity dissipates rapidly and does not linger.
  • Darkening of the tooth as compared with teeth alongside it.
  • A swelling or abscess on the gum above the offending tooth, often taking the appearance of a pimple. It may discharge pus, have a bad smell or create an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
  • Broken or chipped tooth. This is a sign that the tooth has been severely degraded. These conditions usually cause significant pain.
  • Signs of other decay, such as cavities or cracking teeth.

ToothPain-editWhile the need for a root canal is usually punctuated by several of these symptoms, you may still have no symptoms, and yet, need a root canal. There are times that a tooth will have died within the socket, and as the nerves are no longer living they are unable to trigger a pain response.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described, contact our office to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.


How Your Dentist Knows:

When these symptom-less problems appear, it’s vital for your dentist to assess the need for a root canal procedure based off a few observations and simple tests. The objective of your dentist will be to discern if your tooth problems will be rectified by root canal treatment, or if the damage may yet be slowed or reversed, in which case a filling may be a viable option. A good dentist will be able to catch any occurring problems during your routine visits, limiting the amount of damage the tooth will suffer.

Your dentist will observe the condition of the teeth, and check up on any previously performed dental work. He will examine the color and condition of the gums of the teeth. He will also perform an X-ray in order to observe any signs of infection. A condition that has similar symptoms to root canal conditions are periodontal gum abscess, and an X-ray may rule out this possibility.

Other tests he may perform are as follows:

  • Application of heat and cold to the tooth – This is done in order to check the health of the nerve and observe your reactions.
  • Tapping of the tooth or having you bite down – As noted above, when the root tip is inflamed or irritated, the pressure of being pressed into the socket will trigger pain or discomfort.
  • Checking the vitality of the nerve – By utilizing a special device called an electronic pulp tester, the dentist can assess the health of the nerve.
  • Routine dental X-rays – These will demonstrate for the dentist any ‘silent’ root canal issues that are not creating the usual symptoms. In these situations, the nerve damage is usually still very minimal and may be rectified with a filling, rather than a full root canal procedure.

Because there are not always indicators or symptoms to highlight the need for a trip to the doctor, it is important to have regular checkups so that your dentist may monitor the condition of your teeth. As in the case of a ‘silent’ issue, the pulpal nerve may die off and an infection form without the patient being aware of the problem. In other situations, there may be mild symptoms that were ignored, which faded away as the nerve lost it’s ability to register pain.

Whatever the cause, root canal procedures are essential in preserving the tooth and preventing future problems, even if there are no evident root canal symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described above, contact us to schedule an appointment.

Remember, the sooner treatment is begun, the greater chance of saving the tooth!

Curious about what goes into a root canal procedure? Read more here to learn about root canal therapy and treatments.

What Is A Root Canal Procedure?

When a patient hears the words ‘root canal’, their first response is often concern or fear. The procedure and therapies used to treat damaged root canal are unfamiliar, and thus, may seem frightening. Sometimes, the patient does not even know what a root canal is. A good dentist will take the time to reassure you regarding the procedure and address any concerns you may have.


The reality of the root canal procedure is that it is a very safe and relatively painless treatment that actually greatly or completely relieves the discomfort or pain of the patient, also allowing for optimal tooth health.

Individuals that are experiencing the symptoms described there, or any tooth pain or heightened sensitivity, should contact us to make an appointment right away so that their tooth may be saved.

So, what is a root canal?

What is a root canal?

The space within a tooth, called the pulp chamber, fills the length of the tooth root to the tip. This chamber is called a canal—a root canal. The root canal procedure is a oral surgery where the dentist goes inside of the tooth to clean out decay within these canals.

Each tooth has between one and 4 of these canals. Molars have 2-4 canals, premolars and cuspids have 1-2 canals, and incisors generally have one.

What are common problems that require treatment for the root canal?

The tiny canals that create the chamber containing the pulp of the tooth, and the nerve, can be damaged. Trauma to the tooth or infection of the nerve will result in the need for root canal treatment. Commons causes for root canal treatment include:

  • Tooth decay has penetrated the tooth enamel and the dentin, infecting the tooth pulp. The decay must be removed.
  • A tooth has become abscessed or infected from untreated tooth decay.
  • Trauma to the tooth, such as becoming chipped or broken, has exposed the tooth nerve,
  • The tooth is dying due to age or past trauma that did not receive or did not require treatment at the time of the injury.

If proper root canal treatment is given, the tooth may be saved, or the need for extraction removed for some years to come.

What is the root canal procedure?

Once a dentist has determined that patient needs a root canal or tooth extraction, he will confer with the patient, discussing the problems with their tooth. An oral surgery will be scheduled shortly after the visit.

During the root canal procedure, the dentist will use a standard drill to access the inside of the tooth. A round drill will be used to remove the pulp within the pulp chamber, exposing the root canals. Tiny files will be inserted into the canals to remove the contents. Increasing file sizes will be used, as the dentist gently cleans and shapes the canals.

Once all the decayed or infected pulp is removed, the dentist will place rubber cones coated with liquid sealer into the canals. Multiple rubber cones will be inserted to ensure that a compact seal is achieved.

Your dentist will then use a heated instrument to remove the excess rubber cone, and to further compact the rubber within the canal to better fill the canal space. Optimum treatment includes placement of one or more posts to strengthen the tooth and retain the filling, prolonging tooth life. A light resin, hardened by a bright light, will then be used to fill the remaining space.

At this point, your dentist will either allow the tooth to remain intact with the filling already placed, or he will decide to cover with a full crown, or cap.

Does a root canal procedure hurt?

This is one of the most common questions asked regarding a root canal procedure. Surprising to most, however, is that the answer is “No—no more so than getting a filling.” Modern day techniques and equipment have developed to the point that, in the majority of cases, root canal procedures are not painful, but they can be time consuming and may sometimes require multiple visits.

Treatment for root canals will include the following pain prevention methods:

  • The tooth and surrounding area is numbed before any work is begun on the tooth itself.
  • The tooth itself is often ‘dead’ and won’t cause pain because the nerves within the root canals have been destroyed by infection or inflammation.
  • Dentists will use a sedative to lessen your awareness of the ongoing procedure

Part of the reason that many people associate pain with this type of procedure is the pain prior the procedure. When you’ve had a tooth ache for days, or it hurts to chew, or you are experiencing extreme sensitivity to heat or cold, it is natural to expect that pain will also be involved in the rectification of the underlying issue.

If you suspect that you or a family member could be suffering from tooth decay, take a look at our article on the symptoms of root canal decay to learn more.

In reality, the root canal procedure should not hurt any more than a normal filling, though the duration of the surgery will take quite a bit longer. Usually a root canal procedure will take anywhere between 45 mins to 2 hours or more. This will vary upon how many canals are in the tooth and the severity of the tooth decay.

What should I expect after the procedure?

As with any surgery, there will be some pain following the root canal treatment, especially in the days immediately following the procedure. The tooth will often be tender to touch or while chewing. The gum surrounding the tooth may also be tender and slightly swollen.

Such symptoms are normal and may be mitigated by taking painkillers prescribed by your dentist and by treating the tooth gently. Generally, ibuprofen and aspirin are sufficient analgesics to take following dental care, but your dentist may offer stronger prescriptions if necessary.

If the pain does not begin to ease within a few days following the procedure, it is recommended that you return to your dentist for a checkup on your recovery. Symptoms that do not resolve after a few weeks may be a sign of root canal complications, and require immediate attention from your dentist.

At Mukilteo Family Dentistry, we strive toward providing excellent service for all of our patients. We believe that good preventative services can often remove or slow the need for more major procedures or surgeries. Contact us to begin, what we hope, can be a partnership for many years to come.