woman in a dentist chair

A root canal might be necessary when there is a problem within the entire tooth, not just on the surface (as with a cavity). Tooth pain is often the first sign that something is wrong deep down in the tooth, but other warning signs like tooth decay, tooth sensitivity, inflamed gums, cracks in the tooth, and tooth discoloration could mean you need a root canal as well. 

If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know just how relieved you are when that pain stops. Knowing the main signs you need a root canal can help you put an end to the pain and—in many cases—save the tooth.

Signs You Need a Root Canal

One of the problems with tooth discomfort is that it can be hard to pin down exactly what the issue is when the problem is still in the early stages. We often just have a vague sense of discomfort in our mouths that we may not even associate with any one tooth in particular. 

Over time, however, it will start to become more evident that your teeth require some help. These common warning signs indicate that you might need a root canal. If you have any of these symptoms, you should make a dentist’s appointment as soon as possible.

  1. Persistent Tooth Pain

    If, over several weeks, it constantly hurts to put pressure on your tooth (such as when you eat), you should get the tooth checked. Pain when chewing isn't normal and may indicate a deeper issue such as severe decay or cracks.

  2. Tooth Sensitivity

    If drinking hot coffee or tea makes your tooth ache, this is an indication that the tooth enamel is compromised or the gum has receded, exposing some of the root. Likewise, if it hurts when you eat or drink something cold and/or you avoid using one side of your mouth with cold items because it makes your tooth ache, you need to make an appointment with your dentist.

  3. Tooth Discoloration

    A discolored tooth doesn’t necessarily mean you need a root canal. Sometimes it can be related to hygiene or caused by consistently eating or drinking things that are known to cause the teeth to darken (tea, coffee, wine, certain spices, etc.). However, if the discoloration is isolated to only one tooth, it might indicate that nerve or blood vessel damage has occurred, and you should contact your dentist.

  4. Chipped or Cracked Tooth

    This can happen from accidents, playing contact sports, biting down on something hard, or eating very hard or crunchy foods regularly. Regardless, when a tooth has become chipped or cracked, it needs repairing to prevent bacteria from getting inside the tooth and causing an infection. Due to the number of blood vessels in each of our teeth, a tooth infection can spread to the bloodstream, which can create even more serious issues. Call your dentist right away if you have a cracked or chipped tooth.

  5. Swollen Gums

    If your gums are swollen, red, and painful, something is causing inflammation. It could mean that you have periodontal disease, trauma, or something stuck in your gums, but you need to have it checked by your dentist to find the cause if it hasn’t subsided after a day or two. If an infected tooth is causing the inflammation, the treatment may include a root canal.

  6. Deep Decay

    If decay sets in at the root of a tooth, a renewed commitment to brushing or flossing won’t fix it. It’s possible for even something as simple as an ignored cavity to grow and worsen to the point that repairing it is no longer an option and more drastic measures are needed. A root canal or dental implant can end up being your only real option if you put off appointments for too long.

How Does Root Canal Treatment Work?

After noticing any of the aforementioned signs that you need a root canal, your dentist can perform a thorough evaluation and determine whether root canal therapy is needed. 

During a root canal procedure, your dentist will create a small hole in an infected tooth and remove the tooth pulp, which consists mostly of blood vessels and nerve endings. Root canal surgery effectively deadens the tooth and thereby eliminates the pain.

After cleaning out the tooth's root, the canals inside the tooth are then filled with gutta-percha (a type of resin) so that your tooth is not left hollow and weak. After the hole is filled, it is covered with another type of resin (similar to what’s used for a cavity) so that nothing can penetrate the tooth following the root canal.

Depending on the tooth in question, as well as your dental history, your dentist may or may not recommend a porcelain crown to cover the filled root. Porcelain crowns are as strong and layered-looking as a natural tooth, so you will be able to eat, drink, and smile normally. At our Beverly Hills cosmetic dentistry practice, we often use crowns to reinforce root canals—for a result that looks and feels natural. 

Root Canals: See Your Dentist as Soon as You Notice Warning Signs

It’s easy to keep your oral care needs on the back burner, but it’s important to undergo regular dental checkups if you want to keep your mouth—and the rest of your body—healthy. 

Just as we sometimes get colds, we will occasionally need to have dental work done. And whether or not you need root canal therapy, doing your best to stay current with your dental appointments will go a long way to helping minimize the amount of repair you need.

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