Neglected Root Canals

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Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Lara Coseo
Anthony Armenta
Written by
Anthony Armenta
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Evidence Based
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2 sources cited
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What is Root Canal Treatment?

A root canal is a treatment provided by a dentist or endodontist that repairs and saves a damaged or infected tooth. It involves removing inflamed and infected soft tissue from the hollow internal chamber of the tooth and reduces the risk that the problem will worsen and lead to the need for extraction.

Root canal treatment is one of the most intimidating dental procedures, but for most people, it isn’t as bad as they imagine.

endodontic root canal procedure steps

During a root canal procedure, your dentist will:

  • Remove the pulp tissue, which contains nerves and blood vessels
  • Disinfect the canal with antibiotics
  • Fill the root
  • Seal the tooth to prevent further decay

After a root canal, your natural tooth remains in place, but it is fragile and usually requires a dental crown for protection.

Signs You Need a Root Canal

There are several signs that could indicate you need a root canal:

Persistent pain

Persistent tooth pain is a sign that a root canal is needed, especially if you feel the pain deep below the gum line or in areas other than the affected tooth. Persistent pain might be ongoing or could stop and start over days and weeks.

Sensitivity to heat and cold

If you feel sensitivity that is a dull ache or a sharp pain and that pain occurs on an ongoing basis, you might need a root canal. Pain when eating or drinking hot and cold foods and beverages indicates damage and/or infection.

Tooth discoloration

Discoloration occurs when there is an infection or damage in the dental pulp of your tooth. Inadequate blood flow causes tooth pulp to die, which leads to the discoloration.

Swollen gums

Gum swelling near the throbbing tooth may be a sign of an issue that requires a root canal. It’s caused by acidic waste products from dead pulp tissues. A gum boil, pimple, or abscess on your gum is also a sign of a tooth infection.

Pain when you eat or touch the tooth

Ongoing tooth sensitivity and pain are an indication that there is an infection or damage to your tooth’s pulp that might require root canal treatment.

Chipped or cracked tooth

Tooth injuries are one of the most common reasons for needing a root canal.

Tooth mobility

Infected teeth sometimes feel loose and might indicate the need for a root canal. 

What Happens if You Don't Get a Root Canal?

If you do not get a root canal when you need one, the infection can spread from the tooth in question to the gum and jawbone surrounding the decaying or infected pulp. This could lead to the loss of the tooth or, in severe cases, the loss of part of your jaw. 

Other problems linked to not having a root canal include:

  • Dental abscesses
  • Joint pain
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Sepsis

In most cases, the only alternative to a root canal is the extraction of the tooth in question. After extraction, you’ll need to discuss dental implants and other dental treatment options to replace the missing tooth with your dentist. 

It’s potentially life-threatening to ignore the problem in hopes that the infection will resolve itself. 

As intimidating as a root canal sounds, the treatment is almost always effective. Most people report that the elimination of discomfort and health risks is worth the short time spent under a dentist’s care.

FAQs — Root Canal Procedure

How long can you go before getting a root canal?

This varies from situation to situation. However, the sooner the better, after you experience pain or other symptoms is a good rule of thumb to follow. It’s also important to wait no more than thirty days or so after having a root canal to get a crown to protect the affected tooth.

What not to do after a root canal?

Your dentist will tell you exactly what to do and not do following your root canal treatment. However, in general, you’ll want to avoid:

- Eating hard, crunchy, or chewy foods
- Eating or drinking excessively hot foods and beverages
- Drinking alcohol

These recommendations aren’t necessarily permanent and only need to be followed for a day or two after the treatment. However, some dentists recommend avoiding direct contact between the affected tooth and certain types of food indefinitely. 

How long does a root canal take?

The time it takes to undergo root canal treatment varies from person to person, but in general, root canals take about 30 to 60 minutes. Complex cases can take 90 minutes or more. All in all, the time it takes for a root canal is a small price to pay for improved oral health.

What happens if you don't get a crown after a root canal?

Installation of a crown is an important follow-up to root canal therapy to reinforce a now-weakened tooth. If you do not get a crown you’ll be at risk for chipping, breaking, or losing the tooth in question. There is also a chance the tooth will be extra sensitive and eating and drinking certain things will cause pain.

Resources

“Pain after Root Canal: What Is Normal, When to Get Help, and Causes.” Www.Medicalnewstoday.Com, 30 Jan. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320978

“What Is a Root Canal? | American Association of Endodontists.” American Association of Endodontists, 2017, www.aae.org/patients/root-canal-treatment/what-is-a-root-canal/.

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