Do I need a root canal? Signs and symptoms

A root canal is one of the most dreaded types of dentistry treatment. Fortunately, advances in anesthetic and the techniques used to perform this procedure mean that root canal is now rarely any more complex or painful than other types of dental treatment.


Here’s what you need to know about root canal and how you can tell if you are likely to need this tooth-saving procedure.

What is a root canal?

A root canal is a name given to a dental procedure in which the pulp and root of the tooth are cleaned of any decay and infected material. All teeth have multiple layers. The hardest is the outer layer, called the enamel. The middle layer is more sensitive and called dentin. And the innermost layer is called the pulp. The pulp consists of a network of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue which makes it extremely sensitive. The pulp extends into the root in your jawbone, which is responsible for providing the tooth with the blood and nutrients it needs to stay healthy. The root also helps to secure the tooth in place.


Dental decay occurs when sugars and bacteria found in our mouth interact to produce acid, which slowly eats away at the tooth from the outside. Left to progress, decay can reach the pulp, causing severe pain and infection. Without treatment, the tooth will die and either falls out of its own accord or require extraction. In some instances, the infection can even penetrate the jawbone and cause further severe dental problems.


During a root canal, your dentist will open up the root of the affected tooth in order to extract bacteria and decay from the tooth pulp, root, and nerve. Once this is complete, they will disinfect the area with antibiotics and fill the empty root, sealing it to prevent new decay. This is carried out using a local anesthetic, although sedation may be possible if required.

Signs you may need a root canal

The only definitive way of knowing whether you need root canal treatment is to see your dentist for an examination. However, there are symptoms that you should be aware of that are associated with the need for this tooth-saving treatment. The most common signs and symptoms of a root canal infection include:


  • Persistent dental pain. This can vary in sensitivity and may come and go or be persistent.

  • Tooth sensitivity to heat/cold, such as when you drink a cup of coffee or eat ice cream. The sensitivity can manifest as a consistent ache or sharp pain.

  • Tooth discoloration. This occurs when the tooth starts to die, causing it to turn grey or brown.   

  • You have a hole, chip, or crack in your tooth. This type of damage can expose the nerves beneath the surface of the tooth, enabling bacteria to enter and cause an infection.

  • Swollen gums. This is caused by acidic waste products or dead pulp tissues, which accumulate and cause inflammation. In some cases, the gums may also ooze pus. This occurs when an abscess develops.

  • Your tooth may feel looser. This happens when the infection in the root becomes severe enough to soften the bone around the root of the dying tooth. If you have a tooth that feels loose, it should be checked over straight away.


If you are concerned about the health of your teeth, and if you are experiencing any signs of a root canal infection, don’t delay in seeking help from your dentist. Prompt treatment could save your tooth. If you are looking for a root canal specialist in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, don’t hesitate to call to speak to our expert dental team.