How do I Know If I need a Root Canal

Have you felt a sharp, sudden pain when you eat ice cream or a lingering ache after sipping a hot cup of coffee? That pain may be more than a fleeting discomfort; it may be a warning and a sign that you need to see an endodontist, or root canal specialist. If you are wondering, “How do I know if I need a root canal?” This article will help you address this question.

We’ll give an overview of some of the signs and symptoms that might indicate you need a root canal, which can often be an alternative to tooth extraction. This article is purely educational and not a substitute for professional care from your dentist or endodontist.

A successful root canal relieves pain and saves your natural tooth. Most find the procedure similar to a standard filling in terms of comfort. Best of all, it can restore wellness, heals pain, and improves the quality of life.

Signs and Symptoms That You May Need a Root Canal

While this list isn’t exhaustive, here are some symptoms that might indicate you need a root canal.

  • Pain while biting down or chewing
  • Pimples on the gums near an infected tooth
  • A chipped or cracked tooth
  • Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold, even after the source has been removed
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Darkening of the gums
  • Deep decay

Remember, these symptoms could also be signs of other dental issues, so it’s important to see a dentist for help. Most oral health problems don’t get better on their own; if you have cavities or tooth decay, you need care from a dentist. Depending on the severity of the decay, a root canal may be your only and best alternative to losing the tooth.

Early diagnosis means early treatment, which can prevent future pain and the need for more invasive procedures.

When to See an Endodontist

An endodontist is a dental specialist who focuses on saving natural teeth whenever possible. In addition to completing dental school and becoming a licensed dentist, an endodontist completes another specialized residency training program that lasts around two or three years.

Although a general dentist may perform root canals, they average about two root canals a week (102 a year). Endodontists, however, perform 25 root canals each week on average, or well over 1000 per year, according to the American Association of Endodontics. With treatment as complex as a root canal, experience and training matter. When you multiply their experience over the years, the difference and its impact grows–which is important when it comes to your health.

During a root canal, your provider opens your tooth to access the diseased inner pulp and root canal system. They thoroughly clean and disinfect the inner tooth, removing the diseased pulp. Finally, they refill it and re-seal the tooth. The root canal system is tiny and complicated, with variations from person to person, and tooth to tooth. If harmful bacteria are left inside the canals, decay and disease may continue to progress, requiring retreatment. Therefore, it’s important that your provider is skilled in root canals to lead to an excellent outcome.

How Your Endodontist Knows if You Need a Root Canal

Since the root canal system is so small and complex, endodontists use a combination of low-tech tests, cutting-edge technology, listening skills, and expertise to find the source of the pain.

In order to determine if you need a root canal or not, your dentist or endodontist will perform a variety of tests to help them accurately diagnose the condition of your tooth. Here are some of the common tests:

  • Visual Examination: the endodontist takes a thorough look at your teeth and gums for signs of decay, damage, or infection.
  • Physical Palpation examination: the endodontist feels around your gums to check for swelling, tenderness, or abnormal growths.
  • Percussion Testing: the endodontist gently taps the tooth to assess if it causes pain or discomfort.
  • Bite Testing: the endodontist will ask you to bite down on a small stick in different areas to see if it causes any pain or discomfort.
  • Mobility Testing: the endodontist checks whether the tooth moves in its socket. An unusually loose tooth could indicate a problem.
  • Sensitivity Testing: the endodontist places a hot or cold stimulus on the tooth to see how your tooth responds. 
  • Electric Pulp Testing: a small electric current is applied to the tooth to check the health of the tooth’s pulp (the innermost part of the tooth).
  • X-rays or 3D Imaging: the endodontist will take x-rays to provide a detailed view of the tooth and surrounding bone, revealing any hidden problems beneath the gum line.

Remember, the specific tests an endodontist performs can vary depending on your symptoms and the condition of your teeth.

The primary goal is to find out if there is an infection, and if so, exactly which tooth is infected. That sounds simple, but sometimes the body refers to pain signals in other areas of the body. Referred pain sometimes makes symptom-based diagnosis difficult. Other goals are to assess the extent of the damage and find the best treatment. In other words, an exam from a skilled endodontist is the best way to know if you need a root canal.

Why Suffer Longer Than You Need To?

When it comes to your health, every day you suffer is a day too long. Most oral health issues are treatable, and even preventable, if you see a dentist or endodontist soon enough.

As endodontists, we strive to save natural teeth and restore wellness. Nothing fits your mouth as well as your natural teeth. Each tooth in your mouth supports the other adjacent teeth, and they all work together to keep your jaw bone healthy and strong. We appreciate the talent and innovation of our colleagues who craft dental implants, but we believe strongly in the unique and irreplaceable value of your natural teeth.

Ballantyne Endodontics serves the Charlotte, NC community saving one natural tooth at a time. Our team is committed to technical excellence, compassionate care, and resolving pain.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to learn how to request a referral.