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Do I need a root canal?

Do you think you might need a root canal? Although root canals have long evoked fear in the minds of most adults, jokes and horror stories about them are vastly overstated. According to the American Association of Endodontics, over 15 million root canal procedures are done in America, annually. Root canal therapy, often referred to as a “root canal” is a common dental treatment used to remove infection in a diseased tooth. This increases the longevity of the tooth and reduces the likelihood that it may be removed or lost in the future. So how do you know if you need a root canal? Only a dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist) can make the official diagnosis and treatment recommendation. However, there are a few signs that can alert you to a possible problem or indicate the need for root canal therapy:

  • Sensitivity or pain, especially pain that lingers or occurs when drinking or eating something warm or hot.
  • Deep decay or a large cavity that is close to the nerve of the tooth
  • A toothache. Throbbing and aching that gets worse over time can be a sign.
  • A large crack or chip in your tooth or filling
  • Trauma to a tooth, often caused by an accident or injury to the face or mouth
  • Swelling of the gums, cheeks, lips or face
  • Draining pus or a pimple or blister that appears along the side of your gums
  • Evidence of pathology seen only on an x-ray or digital imaging

There are several reasons why a patient may need a root canal. Trauma and injury, decay, and infection are just a few. In some cases, patients will have no symptoms and may not realize that their tooth is infected. For this reason, it is imperative that patients see their dentist regularly for routine check-ups and call their dentist immediately if they experience pain, sensitivity, or an injury. Facial or head injuries that cause dizziness or vomiting are emergencies and patients should seek assistance as a hospital emergency room. The possible need for a root canal on an injured tooth is superseded by the need to treat a possible concussion.

If your dentist or endodontist recommends a root canal, it is important to start treatment as soon as possible. Tooth infections, if left untreated, can lead to abscesses and systemic sepsis infections throughout the body. In rare cases, untreated diseased tooth infections caused untreated hospitalizations and even death.

Most root canal therapy procedures are painless and comfortable. Only in the rarest of situations, and generally in the presence of extreme infection or delayed treatment, are root canals a challenging experience for patients.  Moreover, tooth sensitivity doesn’t usually mean a root canal is needed.  And decay or cracks or chips can be restored with fillings or crowns only. So there is no need to fear a root canal. In fact, root canal therapy allows us to keep more of our teeth and longer! But, should your dentist or endodontist recommend a root canal, it is always best to treat them as soon as possible to avoid additional complications.


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