If you’ve ever had a toothache, you know just how relieved you are when that pain stops! Cavities are a particular sort of pain that can be both sharp and indistinct but are hugely uncomfortable. Reasons for toothaches vary but include anything from a small hole or abscess to an infection of the tooth. A root canal might be necessary when there is a problem within the entire tooth, not just on the surface (as with a cavity).
What IS a root canal, exactly?
A root canal is a procedure where your dentist creates a small hole in an infected tooth and removes the tooth pulp, which consists mostly of blood vessels and nerve-endings. The process effectively ‘deadens’ the tooth and thereby eliminates the pain you have been experiencing. The canals inside the tooth are then filled in with what’s called 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 get 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 decide a crown is also recommended.
How do I know if I need a root canal?
One of the problems with tooth discomfort is that early on, it can be hard to pin down what precisely the issue is. We often have just a vaguely painful feeling in our mouths that we may not even associate with anyone tooth in particular. Over time, however, it will start to become more evident that your teeth require some help. Here are some common signs that might indicate you need a root canal and that you should make a dentist’s appointment as soon as possible to find out for sure.
- Persistent pain: if over several weeks, it consistently hurts to put pressure on your tooth, like when you eat, that is not normal and should be checked.
- Sensitivity to hot or cold: if drinking hot coffee or tea makes your toothache, that indicates you have a problem. 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 toothache, you need to make an appointment with your dentist.
- Tooth discoloration: dark teeth doesn’t necessarily mean you need a root canal. Sometimes it can be related to hygiene, or with consistently eating or drinking things that are known to cause the teeth to darken (things like coffee, wine, certain spices, etc.), but 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.
- Cracked or chipped tooth: this can happen from playing contact sports, eating very hard or crunchy foods regularly, or any number of things, but when a tooth has gotten chipped or cracked, it needs repairing. It becomes easy for bacteria to get inside the tooth and cause an infection. Due to the number of blood vessels in each of our teeth, a tooth infection can spread to the bloodstream, which creates a whole different set of issues! Call your dentist right away if you have a chipped or cracked tooth.
- Swollen gums: if your gums are swollen, red, and painful, something is causing inflammation. It could mean that you have trauma or have something stuck in your gums, but you need to have it checked by your dentist if it hasn’t subsided in a day or two to make sure you don’t require a root canal.
- Deeper 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 can become the only real option open to you if you put off appointments for too long.
Keeping our smile beautiful is a priority for us all. Keeping it healthy can sometimes be moved more to the back burner of life, but regular dental checkups can not only keep your mouth healthy, but the rest of your body as well. Just like we sometimes get a cold, we will occasionally need to have dental work done. Doing your best to stay current with your dental appointments will go a long way to helping minimize the amount of repair you need!