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Knowing whether you have a root canal infection isn’t always easy. On the one hand, there are numerous symptoms that people who don’t require root canal treatment frequently experience and on the other hand, there are less obvious symptoms that can only be recognised by a dentist. 

To give you an example, toothache can be a sign of several dental problems but tooth pain doesn’t always warrant root canal treatment. It pays to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of root canal infection – that way you can seek dental help faster and help prevent future damage. 

It’s all well and good us talking about an infected root canal and root canal treatment, but what exactly is a root canal? 


Root Canal Defined

The term ‘root canal’ is used in two different ways. It can refer to a dental treatment that removes infected material and relieves tooth pain but it can also refer to the nerve chambers situated in the centre of a tooth between the pulp and the tooth root. 

Each root canal accommodates a system of nerves and blood vessels that deliver nutrients to the teeth and nerves. The nerves are typically sensitive to factors such as heat, cold, and pressure and, in the event of tooth decay and infected pulp, nerve removal is often a necessary stage of root canal treatment. 

So, getting back to root canal infection, what are the common symptoms that may indicate root canal treatment is necessary? Let’s have a look… 


Root Canal Infection – Common Symptoms


Tooth Pain 

Infected root canals can cause severe tooth pain because the inner tooth material is very sensitive. In some cases, a root canal infection can flourish causing a dental abscess to form. 

Not all tooth pain indicates the need for root canal therapy, however. Sometimes a tooth that requires root canal treatment won’t hurt at all. Instead, the pain you’re feeling may be the result of other dental conditions such as tooth decay and periodontal disease (caused by poor oral health), exposed dentin, sinus infection, tooth fracture and bruxism.

The type of tooth pain that may indicate the presence of a root canal infection includes:


  • Strong pain that keeps you awake at night
  • Severe tooth pain when chewing
  • Lingering toothache
  • Pulsating toothache
  • Pain triggered by a cold drink following hot food and vice versa

Swelling and Tender Gums

Swelling is another common symptom. It comes in various forms and may be accompanied by tender gums. In some cases, there is a large lump that you can see or feel and in extreme cases the swelling may extend to the face or neck. Swelling often goes hand in hand with toothache but, just like tooth pain, it doesn’t always mean root canals are infected. This is why it’s difficult to self-assess the need for root canal treatment and why you should always visit your dentist promptly. 

Specific swelling symptoms that may indicate root canal infection are:

  • A recurring pimple that forms on the gums
  • Pronounced swelling
  • Swelling that lasts a long time
  • A tooth that feels as if it is taller than those either side of it
  • A boil that sits on the gums in front of or on the root tip


Bad Breath 

Bad breath caused by bacteria is often a symptom of poor oral health but it can also be the result of infection – and in particular root canal infection. If tooth enamel gets damaged by a cavity, trauma, or erosion, bacteria can access a root canal whereby they multiply in the pulp chamber, causing a nasty smell. 

Pus can be another source of odour and a bad taste in the mouth. Poor oral health can cause a dental infection that creates pus-filled pockets (abscesses). These start as small bumps that are tender and swollen which gradually grow larger. Once an abscess forms it’s extremely painful and needs to be dealt with by a dentist because it shows that the infection in the root canal has already spread. So, should you notice any form of bulge beneath your gums, visit your dentist promptly. 


Tooth Discolouration 

Fortunately, the last symptom is easy to detect – a tooth that has darkened to a dark yellow or greyish shade. The tooth changes colour because of limited blood flow and can be a sign of root canal infection. A dark coloured tooth often indicates nerve infection which as it spreads causes the nerve to weaken and die. This needs to be removed as quickly as possible otherwise the bacteria it harbours may cause further problems to your oral health


The takeaway

While the human body can stave off oral infections effectively it cannot reach germs that are in the centre of a tooth. This is where an experienced dentist comes in. Not only does root canal treatment eliminate pain but it restores the health of a tooth.

Don’t ignore any of the symptoms above as matters will only get worse. Instead, make an appointment with the experienced team at myDentist West Ryde or call us at (02) 8073 9338. We provide some of the latest pain relief options to give patients the most comfortable experience when undergoing root canal treatment.

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