Symptoms of an Infected Tooth
Root canals are used to treat a tooth in which decay or damage has allowed bacteria to attack the living tooth nerve, or pulp, inside your tooth. You might notice some common symptoms of an infected tooth, such as:
- Spontaneous severe tooth pain
- Tooth pain that keeps you from sleeping or participating in activities
- Sensitivity to heat, touch, or cold that lasts for at least 15 minutes
- A bad taste in the mouth
- Pimple-like sore that develops on your gums near a tooth
- Discoloration of a single tooth
- Fever and related flu-like symptoms
Although most people experience pain related to an infected tooth, not everyone does. If you have several other symptoms but no tooth pain, it’s still important to talk to a dentist.
The Root Canal Process
When bacteria have infected the inside of your tooth, we have to remove the infected material. That’s why a root canal is technically known as an endodontic procedure, which technically means “inside the tooth.”
To remove the infected material, we will drill into the interior of your tooth. Then we will remove all of the pulp that there is, either in the main part of the tooth or in the internal parts of the root, known as the root canals. This includes all the healthy parts of your tooth pulp if there is any. What’s left is a tooth that is structurally sound, but is no longer capable of feeling any pain.
The interior of the tooth is then filled up with a cushioning material that’s similar to your tooth pulp. We often use a type of rubber, and we may also add a rod to help strengthen your tooth if necessary.
Finally, a dental crown is added to protect and strengthen the tooth.
Is a Root Canal Painful?
When root canals were first performed, there was no reliable dental anesthesia. We imagine it was a pretty painful procedure at that time. After all, we’re removing the tooth nerve, which is already inflamed because of the infection.
But today we have reliable anesthesia that is very effective. This can significantly reduce or eliminate the discomfort from your root canal. Most patients report little to no discomfort from their root canal. And it’s usually less than the discomfort people suffer every day from an infected tooth, and within a week after your procedure the pain is much less than you likely experienced before your root canal.
Should I Get a Dental Implant Instead?
These days, many people think it’s best to avoid a root canal by getting a dental implant to replace an infected tooth. Dental implants and root canals have about the same success rate and both can give lifelong results.
If you can get a root canal it’s often better because the procedure takes less time (a root canal is fully healed within a month, while dental implants can take six months or more) and you reserve the right to get a dental implant in the future if necessary, but you can’t get your natural tooth back if you change your mind.