People are often surprised to learn they need a root canal, especially if they are not experiencing any discomfort. If this is the case for you, you may be asking, “Do I need a root canal if I have no pain?” While it is true that many people who need one experience some degree of pain, that’s not always the case.
According to the American Association of Endodontics, root canals are recommended when the pulp of a tooth is infected or inflamed. This happens when receding gums, a cavity, fracture, or crack is too deep, allowing harmful bacteria inside the tooth and the complex root canal system. While this level of infection is usually painful, sometimes your dentist or endodontist might catch it before you experience any pain.
Once your tooth is infected and damaged to that degree, a root canal is your best alternative to losing the tooth.
There are several signs that you may need a root canal, even without pain. If you notice these symptoms developing or worsening, be sure to see your dentist or endodontist. They will perform a series of tests to get to the root cause and determine the extent of the damage. Possible symptoms include:
- Pain, especially a throbbing pain when you bite down. Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures that lingers a little while after the source is gone
- A chip or deep crack in the tooth
- A pimple or bump on the gum near the infected tooth
- Tender, red, or swollen gums
- Deeper decay and darkening of the gums
- Bone loss or other signs of deep infection apparent during an exam, even without noticeable symptoms.
For many people, a successful root canal puts an end to unnecessary pain and suffering, so it may seem counterintuitive that there are others needing root canals who never experience any pain. But there are several reasons why someone might not experience any discomfort despite needing treatment. For example, some people have developed a higher-than-normal pain threshold or learned to ignore pain even when it is warning them of infection or disease. Other times, the infection might be new enough that symptoms haven’t developed. In still other cases, the nerve of the tooth is completely dead, and therefore incapable of transmitting pain.
Whether pain is present or not, it is crucial to understand that the disease and infection leading to the need for a root canal can’t be reversed without treatment. While a second opinion— especially from an endodontist—may be helpful, if the diagnosis is correct, you will need a root canal to avoid extraction.
Why Saving Natural Teeth is So Important
As endodontists, we strive to save natural teeth whenever possible. Today’s implants and dentures are indeed incredible for the people that need them. However, nothing fits together as well as your natural teeth. Despite popular belief, implants are still prone to getting gum disease around them, which could make them loose and fall out.
Your teeth reinforce and support each other. Keeping your natural tooth structure helps maintain alignment and minimizes the risk of unnecessary wear on the other teeth.
Through endodontic care, you can maintain your natural smile and restore wellness while getting rid of infection.
What Happens During a Root Canal Treatment
During a root canal treatment, your endodontist aims to cleanse the tooth of infection and restore it. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of what happens:
- The dentist or endodontist will first administer local anesthesia to numb the area and ensure you’re comfortable during the procedure.
- A small hole is drilled into the tooth to access the pulp chamber and root canals to access the tooth’s inner pulp.
- The endodontist will remove the diseased pulp from the tooth using special tools.
- The inner tooth and root canals are then cleaned and shaped to prepare them for filling.
- The endodontist then fills the canals with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha which seals off the canals to prevent reinfection.
- The small hole used to access the inner tooth is finally sealed with a filling.
- Sometimes a crown is placed over the tooth to protect it and restore its function depending on the structural strength of the tooth and where in the mouth it is located.
Despite the root canal’s reputation, most people find the treatment is about as painful as a routine filling.
Why You Should Consider an Endodontist If You Need a Root Canal
Both general dentists and endodontists can perform root canals, but an endodontist is a dentist who specializes in saving natural teeth through endodontic treatment, including root canals. In addition to standard dental school, endodontists complete an additional two years of intensive training. They are skilled in both providing care and diagnosing the condition that leads to a root canal earlier, sometimes before you even feel any pain.
While a typical general dentist performs just two root canals per week, or 104 per year, according to the American Association of Endodontists, an average endodontist performs at least 25 root canals per week which is 1,300 a year. Given the complexity of the minuscule root canal structure, hands-on experience counts. If you had a rare classic car, would you prefer to take it to a mechanic that works on such a car once in a while or one who specializes in cars like yours on a full-time basis? When it comes to your health and well-being, expertise makes all the difference.
Schedule a Consultation
If you need a root canal or retreatment of an existing root canal, consider asking your dentist for a referral to an endodontist or even self-referring to one. Even though failed root canals aren’t usually the fault of the dentist—since additional tooth decay, gum disease, or trauma can expose the treated tooth to more harmful bacteria and infection—receiving treatment from a specialist can increase the likelihood of success and help you avoid additional pain and infection.
Ballantyne Endodontics serves the Charlotte community delivering compassionate care along with technical excellence. Our endodontists excel at their craft and share a deep passion for saving natural teeth. Our founder, Sonia Chopra, D.D.S., knows first-hand what it is like to receive endodontic care, as she needed extensive dental work early in her life. Her experience ignited a passion for helping others through endodontic care.