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6 signs you might need root canal treatment

Updated: May 25, 2023

Root canal has become a byword for the ultimate in unpleasant experiences, But in fact, there are plenty of things much worse – like not having root canal treatment when you need it. Untreated infections of the tooth pulp (which houses the nerves and blood supply) can lead to the loss of your tooth, and even worse, the infection spreading to other parts of the body.

And despite what you might have heard, root canal treatment is no more uncomfortable than having a filling. Plus, with a success rate of up to 90%, it’s one of the most effective treatments aimed at saving a tooth. It’s also cheaper and less evasive than other procedures, such as extraction and replacement.

But how do you know when you might need root canal treatment? Often, root canal infections can be painless, but there are other signs you can watch out for. Let’s take a look.

You have a loose tooth

If a tooth becomes infected, the infection can spread to the bone and soften it, causing your tooth to become loose. If you notice a loose tooth, it’s important to see your dentist as soon as possible.

Root canal treatment can remove the infection and preserve the tooth. Depending on the cause of infection, you may also need to have additional gum disease treatment, but your dentist will be able to advise you on that.

You have a cracked or chipped tooth

Whether you’ve accidentally bitten something hard or you’ve had an accident, a cracked or damaged tooth can create problems. Bacteria that live in the mouth can enter the tooth pulp through the crack and infect it. Not all cracked teeth will require root canal treatment but make an appointment with your dentist to ensure the best course of treatment.

You have lingering pain after consuming hot or cold food and drink

A throbbing pain or pressure that continues after eating or drinking could be a sign of a root canal infection. It may mean the infection has reached the nerves and blood vessels inside your tooth.

You may also feel tooth pain at other times. Whether it’s persistent or comes and goes, see your dentist to get it checked out.

You have an abscess

A dental abscess is a collection of pus which can form inside the teeth, gums or bone. It’s a sign of established infection and needs to be treated immediately.

Abscesses can be painful, but not always. Look for redness, swelling or tenderness on your gums. You may notice pus oozing from a lump on your gums or from your tooth, an unpleasant taste in your mouth or bad breath.

You have a swollen face or gums

Swelling around the gums is common and can be caused by a number of factors, including overzealous brushing, gingivitis and getting food particles stuck in the gum line. But it can also be caused by the waste products of infected pulp. So, if the swelling persists, feels tender or extends to your face, then make an appointment with your dentist.

Your tooth or gums have become darker

As infection spreads throughout the tooth pulp, it can cause the tooth to discolour or darken. Look for anything from a dark spot to a darkening of the whole tooth or darkening of the gums.

How does a dentist check for root canal infection?

Your dentist will take X-rays to determine if the pulp has become infected.

Who provides root canal treatment?

Root canal work is a specialist treatment and although dentists do provide root fillings, most prefer this treatment to be carried out by an endodontist to ensure that it's carried out to the highest standard. This is especially true if it’s a more complex case.

Registered endodontists, of which there are less than 300 in the UK, specialise in the treatment of diseases and injuries of the tooth root, dental pulp and surrounding tissue. They will have completed training and met specific standards set by the General Dental Council (GDC). If you’re wondering ‘where can I find a registered endodontist near me’, you can search the GDC register.

Dr Gahan is one of only six registered endodontists in Leeds, so if you’re looking for root canal in Leeds, Selby, York or the surrounding areas, he’s here to help. He sees private patients at Finkle Hill Dental Care in Sherburn-in-Elmet. To book a consultation, simply get in touch with the team on 01977 682 200 or



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