3 Signs You Need a Root Canal

Woman Slight Pain in Cheek

Ah, the dreaded root canal. Ask almost anyone and they’ll tell you that they would rather do almost anything else than have a root canal. While root canals may have been uncomfortable in the past, modern root canals are no more uncomfortable than a dental filling when performed by a top dentist. Additionally, modern technology now makes it easier for dentists to effectively perform root canals faster and with better treatment outcomes. 

Despite your disdain for root canals, they are actually a valuable restorative treatment that prevents the affected tooth from being lost altogether. You see, root canals are only performed when the bacteria from tooth decay has reached the inner pulp of your tooth. Once inside the pulp, the bacteria will cause an infection that will continue to spread. If not treated, this can eventually lead to abscesses on the tooth root and eventual tooth loss. In some cases, the infection can even spread to the surrounding teeth. By removing diseases pulp, root canals prevent all these horrible things from happening. 

Ultimately if you need a root canal, the sooner you seek treatment the better. Decayed dental pulp will not resolve itself, so there is no use in putting it off. Here are three signs you may need a root canal: 

Pain and Sensitivity

Having a toothache is a pretty good indication that something is wrong with your tooth. However, toothaches can have many causes and not all of them require root canals. In most cases, pain associated with a pulp infection is mild to severe, either improves or gets worse throughout the day, and usually increases when pressure is applied to the tooth. Another telltale sign is a tooth with prolonged sensitivity to hot and cold. Prolonged sensitivity means that the tooth will continue to hurt even after the source has been removed. 

Discolored Tooth


A tooth that looks uniquely yellow, light brown, grey, or black is another indication that you may need a root canal. If one tooth sticks out from the others in terms of color, you will want to have that tooth evaluated by a general dentist. When the dental pulp begins to decay and die, it causes the tooth to change color, indicating the need for a root canal. With discoloration, you should seek treatment as soon as you notice a change in the tooth’s color. 

Nearby Irregularities

Despite the fact that a pulp infection in need of a root canal is inside a single tooth, this can trigger irregularities in the nearby structures. One common structure affected is the gums. If the other two symptoms are present, check the gums. If the pulp is infected, the gums may be tender to the touch and swollen. There may also be a pimple or discharge where the gums meet the affected tooth. Another structure commonly affected by a pulp infection are the jawbones. If the infection has spread, you may feel a deep pain in your jawbones. 

Overall, tooth pain and sensitivity, discoloration, and nearby irregularities are three signs you may need a root canal. As mentioned before, the sooner you seek treatment, the better the outcome is. However, there are also cases where no symptoms are present. This is one reason why it is so important to schedule regular dental exams with your local dentist. For more information, see “Root Canal Therapy”.

Dr. Stephen Malone received his Doctorate of Dental Medicine Degree from the University of Louisville in 1994 and has practiced dentistry in Knoxville for over 20 years. He believes in the value of continuing dental education and has pursued hands-on and mentored advanced dental education every year since earning his doctorate. He participates in multiple dental study clubs and professional organizations, where he has taken a leadership role.

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