How can you tell if your tooth needs root canal treatment?
Only your dentist can make the final determination that your tooth requires root canal treatment.
And when making this judgment, they must not only establish that it seems the right solution for the symptoms you display but also that the overall condition of your tooth warrants the time, expense and follow-up work required.
In general, however, during their evaluation of you and your tooth, they'll look for the following indications.
What are the signs of needing root canal?
- Symptoms you may notice on your own. - It's usually the presence of pain and/or swelling that signals to a person that their tooth requires root canal treatment.
- Signs only your dentist may notice. - Some teeth give little indication that there's a problem within their nerve space. These cases are often discovered, unexpectedly, during a routine dental examination.
[If root canal treatment is needed, there's not a lot you can do on your own to relieve your symptoms. However, here are some home remedy ideas that may help to provide some relief.]
1) Root canal symptoms you are likely to notice on your own.
Please note: Since the endodontic therapy is used to resolve so many different types of problems (inflamed nerves, dying or dead nerves, cracked teeth, failed previous treatment), there isn't just a single set of signs that appears in every case.
It takes a dentist's judgment, after sorting through all of the various symptoms you report and display, to determine if it (or possibly an entirely different dental procedure) seems to be the appropriate solution.
Signs and symptoms that may indicate that root canal treatment is needed:
a) Tooth pain.
The type and degree of pain you experience can vary widely.
b) Gum tenderness or swelling in the area near the tooth.
- The amount of swelling can range from very slight (just an area of tenderness) to quite pronounced. It may even extend into your face or neck.
- In cases where the swelling is relatively minor and localized, it typically occurs at a level that approximates the tip of the tooth's root.
- A pimple-like drain for pus may form on your gums. (See below.)
The signs and symptoms described above can be:
- Transient, varying day-to-day, month-to-month, or anything in between.
- Continual and persistent.
Attempting self-diagnosis using a website seems a likely source for misdiagnosis.
Making a misdiagnosis about the need for root canal treatment (by way of using website information like this) may deter some people from seeking treatment during that stage when a simple, cheap and easy repair might have been made.
That's because some patients won't seek treatment promptly if, in their mind, they think it's already too late, or it will cost too much money or else the idea of having the treatment is too unnerving for them.
2) Situations where a tooth's need for root canal treatment may only be obvious to your dentist.
If so, it may take your dentist's keen eye during their examination to discover evidence that indicates that endodontic therapy is needed for your tooth.
1) Identifying problem teeth with x-rays.
Low-grade infections or infections that can drain may not produce any noticeable symptoms at all. In this type of situation, the tooth's need for root canal treatment may remain undiscovered, even for some years.
This is why routine dental x-rays can be important.
Dentists often discover these types of problem teeth during routine x-ray evaluations. In the most obvious cases, the dental x-ray will show a dark spot right at the tip of the tooth's root.
2) Recurring or persistent gum pimples.
An infection located inside a tooth may cause the formation of a pimple-like lesion on a person's gum tissue. Usually its location will approximate the level where the tip of the tooth's root is located.
Dentists call these lesions "fistulous tracts." Their size may wax and wane over time (on a daily, weekly or even monthly cycle). Because they are literally drains for pus, they often have a bad taste associated with them.
3) Individually darkened teeth.
The nerve tissue inside a tooth may ultimately degenerate as a response to some type of trauma (like being bumped in an accident). This process can take place even some years after the original event, frequently without displaying any obvious symptoms (pain, swelling).
As a tooth's nerve tissue necroses, dark-colored byproducts can seep into the hard tissues of the tooth (dentin and enamel) and cause staining.
As a result, the compromised tooth will have a shade that's slightly darker than its neighboring teeth. This color mismatch is often the sole reason why a dentist will suspect that a tooth is in need of root canal treatment.
4) Exposure of a tooth's nerve.
Sometimes the dental work that a tooth requires results in the exposure of its nerve. The term "exposure" means that the dentist has literally been able to visualize the tooth's pulp tissue.
Sometimes the patient will feel a little prick of pain when the dentist's drill or tool reaches the nerve. Just as likely, the patient won't have a clue that it's happened.
An exposure (or the conditions that lead to it) can lead to pulp tissue degeneration. Because of this, a dentist may determine that it's best to go ahead and perform root canal treatment now, so to avoid possible problems and complications later (such as a painful tooth abscess).
What can you do if you notice symptoms?
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, you should establish contact with your dentist's office and make arrangements to be evaluated and treated as they determine is necessary.
In the case where root canal treatment will be required, there is little you can do on your own to relieve your symptoms. Of course, it only makes sense to discontinue those activities that tend to set your tooth off. And, within the guidelines of the product, you may find that OTC pain relievers provide some help. With some cases, being placed on antibiotics sooner rather than later can be beneficial. Although these are prescription medications, just a phone call to your dentist may be enough to get the ball rolling towards your obtaining them.
Home remedy: Try placing an ice cube on your tooth.
In some cases where endodontic therapy is needed, during that stage when the tooth has started to produce extended periods of constant pain, placing the corner of an ice cube on it may provide some relief.
This won't work in all cases and, in fact, it may irritate the tooth in some. So, ease into this remedy with testing. But when this solution does work, it can provide much needed relief until you can receive the treatment you require from your dentist.