A root canal is usually performed when the tooth pulp has been infected due to an untreated cavity or damaged by a fracture. If there is an infection, the pulp cannot heal on its own because the blood supply to this area is reduced. Antibiotics cannot heal infections located inside the teeth, so a root canal treatment is necessary. If the pulp is damaged by a fracture or during a dental crown mounting procedure, a root canal procedure is also necessary because there is no other option to restore the pulp.
When a Root Canal Is Needed
There are a series of symptoms which show that the tooth pulp is damaged or infected and it needs removal:
- Pain when biting
- Sensitivity to heat
- Painful reaction to cold foods lasting more than two seconds
- Swelling around the tooth
- Pain when the tooth is touched or pushed
- Changes in color (even if it hurts or not)
- Visibly fractured tooth
When checking your tooth, the dentist will tap it and expose it to both cold and heat to see whether its reaction differs from that of a healthy tooth. X-rays are also performed to determine whether a root canal is necessary and to see the length and form of the canals.
The pulp can also be tested with an electronic device, but this is not recommended for patients with peacemakers or other life-support electronic devices.
Why a Root Canal Is Needed
If the tooth pulp is damaged by fractures, repeated fillings or during the preparations for a dental crown, it cannot be restored. The tooth will cause a lot of pain and the pulp needs removal.
If an untreated cavity leads to the infection of the pulp, a root canal is necessary to treat the tooth and to prevent the infection from spreading. Antibiotics do not help with infections located inside the tooth and the pulp cannot heal on its own because the infection affects the normal blood supply of the tooth.
The infection in the pulp can extend to the bone tissue causing abscesses. An abscess consists of dead pulp tissue and requires treatment. When a root canal is performed, the pulp is removed. If a root canal is not performed, the tooth will need extraction. Losing one tooth affects the mechanical processes in your mouth and causes the other teeth to migrate. A missing tooth requires further treatment regarding its replacement and the rearrangement of the teeth line using implants, bridges or braces. Therefore, it is better to have a root canal and prolong the life of your teeth, if possible.
Left untreated, infections located in the pulp can extend to other parts in the body. It can extend into the bone and soft tissue causing osteomyelitis and cellulitis. When reaching other parts in the body, the infection can cause more serious health problems such as heart conditions, septicemia, brain abscess or meningitis.
You should be aware that a devitalized tooth is more fragile and needs further dental treatments to avoid extraction.