The surprise scenario you describe isn't terribly uncommon.

An important point to note is that any tooth that has an associated infection has the potential to flare up at any time. And the consequences of it doing so could be a significant event in your life. (To help avoid this situation, upon discovery of a tooth's problem it is very common for a dentist to write a prescription for antibiotics for their patient so they have it on hand if they notice their tooth has begun to take a turn for the worse.)

We've provided two links below that descibe what your dentist may have identified on the x-rays. But it is possible in the case of previously treated teeth that x-ray evaluation alone may not provide an accurate diagnosis (what is still seen on the x-ray may be "scar" tissue related to the tooth's past events).

If there is some question about the diagnosis, consulting with an endodontist (root canal specialist) might make a prudent choice.

As this page mentions, root canal retreatment success rates are generally lower than a tooth's initial treatment, so for this reason seeking the expertise of a specialist for the treatment too may make sense.

Also, if the outlook for the success of the retreatment is especially questionable, an alternative treatment choice might make the better decision.

So, if there is no question about the diagnosis, then you need to proceed with some type of treatment solution. If there is a question about the diagnosis itself, then you need to seek the opinion of a higher authority (an endodontist), then go from there.

For further information about what your dentist saw, we have have two pages that discuss issues associated with the discovery of endodontic problems via x-ray examination (signs and symptoms of diagnosing endodontic therapy / x-ray diagnosis of endodontic therapy).

Good luck with this.

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