How Do You Know if You Need a Root Canal?

When your tooth gets infected, a root canal cleans out the insides and saves your tooth. That’s because your teeth can still function fully without the nerve and pulp inside, but if you lose your entire tooth, you face other issues, such as misalignment, gum disease, and bone loss. 

That’s why our dental experts at OK Tooth in Midtown Manhattan, New York, are big proponents of root canals when warranted. Sometimes, severe decay endangers surrounding teeth or leaves little left of the tooth to save, requiring an extraction. But a root canal lets you keep your tooth and avoid complications of a lost or extracted tooth. 

The only way to know for sure if your tooth needs a root canal is to come in and let us examine it. The early stages of decay may not exhibit many symptoms, so self-diagnosing is tricky. That said, there are some telltale signs that point to the need for a root canal. 

Tooth pain 

Pain is one of the main signs that something’s wrong. Of course, tooth pain could indicate any of several problems, including: gum disease, a cavity, a damaged or lost filling, and even a sinus infection. Two types of pain tend to indicate problems that require a root canal:

Persistent pain

If your tooth pain is constant and unrelenting, or if it comes and goes but never goes away completely, you may need a root canal.

Pain upon pressure

When chewing even soft foods sends a shock of pain through your tooth, and the same happens when you touch it or brush it, a root canal may be in your future.

Infections in your teeth inflame your nerves and blood vessels, which, of course, leads to pain. If your tooth pain persists and affects your ability to eat and drink what you want, it may be a sign that you have deep decay that needs to be cleared out. 

Can’t handle hot or cold

Many people have sensitive teeth that twinge a bit when exposed to extreme temperatures. But when the blood vessels and nerves inside your teeth are damaged or infected, the sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks lingers and aches for an extended period.

Red, inflamed gums

As is true when you get an infection anywhere else on your body, swelling often accompanies an infected tooth. You might notice red, puffy gums or a small white pimple near the affected tooth. These are typically tender to the touch and may ooze pus and cause a bitter taste.

Darkened tooth

Discolored teeth may simply be stains from coffee, tea, berries, or red wine, but when the color change comes from within, it may mean that the blood supply inside your tooth has ceased and the pulp has died. It may also be a sign of infection or a damaged root. 

Certain medications can also cause tooth discoloration. To know for sure what’s giving your tooth or teeth a gray or black hue, it’s best to get it checked.

Wiggly tooth

A severely infected tooth produces an acidic substance that seeps into surrounding tissues. If that acid reaches the bone, the bone softens and loses its grip, leaving you with a loose tooth. 

Injured tooth

Cracked and chipped teeth are treatable, but if you leave them unrepaired, they can become infected and require a root canal. Some injuries can damage the nerve inside while leaving the dentin and enamel intact. So if you’ve sustained a blow to your mouth, there’s a chance that there’s an injury you can’t see. 

What is a root canal?

If you looked at a cross section of your tooth, you’d see a hard outer shell of enamel over a layer of dentin. These two protect the soft inner pulp of the tooth where the blood supply and nerve reside. When we perform a root canal, we make a small hole in the tooth, remove the decayed pulp, disinfect the tooth, fill the entire cavity, and then seal it, leaving the hard outer structure intact.

We use an effective local anesthetic to keep you completely comfortable during the procedure. You'll still be numb for a few hours afterward, and when the anesthesia wears off, you may feel quite sore. Most people only need OTC pain relievers to quell the discomfort on the first day. 

The root canal has become a common, streamlined procedure, and it’s the gold standard for treating damaged or severely decayed teeth — more than 15 million Americans get root canals every year. If you think you need a root canal to save a tooth, contact us at 212-651-4121 or request an appointment online today.

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