We now have amazing therapies to replace lost teeth with life-like replicas that look and perform like real teeth. But for oral health in general it’s still better to save a natural tooth if we can.
That’s the main purpose of a root canal treatment — to rescue a tooth whose pulp (an area of tissue and nerve bundles inside the tooth) has died from trauma or ravaged by a bacterial infection that continues to progress up into the bone via the root canals. By accessing the pulp through a small opening in the top of the tooth we remove the dead and infected pulp tissue, thoroughly disinfect the empty pulp chamber and root canals, and then fill them with a special filling. We then seal the opening (and later install a permanent crown) to prevent future fracture of the tooth and re-infection.
So, how can you know your tooth is in danger? Your first indication may be an intense tooth pain that comes on quickly. This pain is emanating from the nerves in the pulp as the tissue begins to die. Once the nerves have died, they will no longer transmit pain signals: hence the pain will subside rather quickly in about two or three days.
So it is important to understand that the absence of pain doesn’t mean the infection has subsided — quite the contrary, it’s still present and active, making its way along the root canals of the tooth. At this point you may begin to notice a secondary pain when you bite down on the tooth. This is originating from other nerves located around the periodontal ligament (the main tissue that helps hold teeth in place with the bone) as the tissues become inflamed from the infection. You may also develop an abscess, an area in the gum tissue where infectious pus may collect. Depending on its location, the abscess can be acutely painful or “silent,” meaning you may not feel any pain at all. The infection is still there, though, and the tooth is still in danger.
If you encounter any of the pain symptoms just described, you should visit us for an examination as soon as possible. If the cause indicates the need for a root canal treatment time is of the essence — the longer we delay, the greater the risk of ultimate tooth loss.
If you would like more information on root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Signs and Symptoms of a Future Root Canal.”