Do You Need a Root Canal?

Visiting the dentist for a toothache or routine cleaning only to be told you need a root canal can be scary. Sometimes there is no way to predict how serious a problem is until the dentist does an examination. Understanding the symptoms of dental issues long before they become a serious problem can help you avoid the procedure, the pain it brings, and the expense. Some people do not realize their teeth are alive, just like their skin and their organs. Just because teeth are strong does not mean they do not need care. Often, it is the canal which brings the tooth life that gets infected and needs treatment. A root canal is actually work that is done on the pathway blood and nutrients take to reach the tooth. So, when this canal gets infected, the dentist will need to treat the infection in order to restore the tooth’s health.


Many people believe that a root canal is only needed if they neglect their teeth. According to Farshad Bakhtyari, DMD, CAGS, of Premier Dental Care in Northern Virginia, “There are different reasons why someone would need a root canal.  An infected or necrotic tooth is one reason.  An irreversibly inflamed tooth is another.  Sometimes root canals are needed to properly restore a tooth that has been damaged by decay or by a fracture.” A tooth can become diseased or injured for a variety of reasons and require a root canal. You may be able to tell that you’ll need a root canal based on pain or pressure. Blood flow to the appropriate part of the tooth decreases and the tooth may feel hot or as if something is pressing down on it. The pain can worsen and feel like it’s throbbing or pulsing. In some cases, you may have increased sensitivity to hot and cold foods and beverages. However, just because you have no symptoms does not mean you are in the clear. Often, patients have no idea they even need a root canal until the dentist has examined the tooth and determined what treatment is needed.


If you find yourself needing a root canal, do not panic. Root canals have developed a reputation for being a terribly painful treatment. But in reality, they are no more unpleasant than a deep tooth cleaning. The most important thing to remember is the sooner it is treated, the better it will be to take care of. The longer you let it go, the more painful it becomes. The infection may also spread further into the tooth, causing the tooth to die. If a tooth dies, the area around it will decay and you will probably need to have the tooth removed. Missing teeth, aside from being embarrassing, can also lead to difficulty eating. Furthermore, you may find your other teeth adjusting to the missing tooth, creating problems with your bite.

Once the root canal is complete, there are a few options for a patient to “finish” the process. Following the root canal procedure, the tooth is dead. Most of the time, the existing shell of the tooth will get a crown or a bridge. This keeps the area around the tooth from becoming infected again, and it strengthens and protects the shell. It also looks natural and keeps a patient’s bite in line. The other option is having the tooth extracted and replaced with a denture or dental implant. This prevents further damage, but is more expensive than having a crown put in and it is sometimes more emotionally traumatic for the patient. A third option is regenerative treatments. If the infection was caught early enough, a root canal and follow-up procedures can sometimes be avoided.

There are a few ways a patient can anticipate needing a root canal. If you notice any of the following, there is a good chance you will need root canal treatment.

  • Pain: Often you will feel a throbbing at the site of the tooth. It may worsen when eating or drinking, especially hot or cold items.
  • Change in tooth appearance: The color of the tooth’s exterior may change. If you notice your tooth graying, it is probably dying.
  • Change in gum appearance: The gum area surrounding the affected tooth may be red, swollen, or hurt.

If you have any of these symptoms, or any other reason to believe there is a problem, contact your dentist immediately. An infection may not have any symptoms, but you may feel uncomfortable or just “not right.” Tooth infections can lead to serious medical problems, so it is always better to be safe than sorry.

*Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.

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