Root Canal Infection — A Quick Guide

You take a hearty bite out of a crunchy chocolate chip cookie, and instead of delight — ouch!

Do you feel excruciating pain after the first sip of your hot morning coffee?

Discomfort from eating, exposure to hot or cold temperatures, or persistent agony that just won’t go away might send you on an emergency visit to the dentist. But don’t worry — modern technologies, such as digital x-rays, can help you get the right diagnosis and treatment in no time.

If your dental exam and x-ray show signs of an infection, you might need a root canal to save the tooth from further decay. Moderate to severe pain is typically the first indication of a problem. Other potential root canal infection symptoms are:

  • Swelling in your cheek or face
  • Swelling of lymph nodes under your chin or in your neck
  • Bad breath
  • Foul taste
  • Discharge
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Fever

If you are suffering from prolonged tooth pain, it is not recommended that you wait, self-treat, or self-evaluate, as an infection can spread to surrounding tissues in the mouth, like other teeth, the gums, and tissue in the cheeks and face. Neglected over time, the bacteria in the system may lead to bigger health complications, such as sepsis (septicemia), a life-threatening medical condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. Complications like inflammation and blood clotting during sepsis may cause reduced blood flow to limbs and vital organs, leading to organ failure and even death.

Your Dentist Will Help You in No Time

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we have mentioned, you should contact your dental professional as soon as possible for an x-ray to determine the proper course of care.

Cavities or caries are small holes that appear in weakened enamel, the hardest, outer layer of the tooth. These and other stresses could be caused by a number of factors — a diet high in sugar, poor dental hygiene, sterile necrosis (death of a tooth caused by trauma), repeated dental procedures, or simple wear and tear.

If the damage is left untreated, a root canal infection spreading can affect the pulp, the soft tissue that houses the blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves of the tooth. This is usually the stage where you start to feel an unpleasant throbbing that sends you to a dental check-up.

Even though it all sounds scary, there’s no need to worry. With a root canal treatment, you should be able to stop the discomfort and save the tooth from extraction, so you can keep your smile bright and well functioning.

What Exactly Is a Root Canal? What Will the Dentist Do?

A root canal is a common therapy where the tooth is opened, the pulp is cleaned and treated, and all infection is cleared. If an abscess, a pus-filled swelling, has formed, your dentist will be able to drain it. The tooth is then filled to prevent bacteria or fluid from entering the tooth through the root. The dentist then closes and reseals your tooth with a permanent crown.

A root canal can take about one to three hours. More extensive work could require multiple visits to the clinic. The operation may be done by your dentist or an endodontist, a person who specializes in root canals.

Many people cower at the mere thought of a root canal infection treatment, but improvements in dental technology and practices have made the procedure quite comfortable for patients. When administered topically and injected into the gums, anesthetics make the process virtually painless.

Digital Dental X-Rays

Digital dental x-rays or radiographs are images that help dentists evaluate your oral health. This modern alternative to traditional x-rays is cheaper, quicker, clearer, and safer than traditional radiography previously used to view physiological details of the face and jaw. They allow for easier storage of your oral health records because the sensors are connected to a computer rather than film. That way, the dentist can access the data easily. Digital x-rays also use less radiation to capture images.

There are different kinds of digital dental x-rays:

  • Bite-wing x-rays — Show the teeth in the back. Each x-ray displays the upper and lower molars and bicuspids. A patient must bite down on a device shaped like wings. This device keeps the sensor from moving while the x-ray is taken.
  • Periapical x-rays — Show only one or two teeth simultaneously, displaying the entire tooth, from crown to root.
  • OPG x-ray — A panoramic type of x-ray that shows the entire lower face, displaying the upper and lower jaw teeth from crown to root in one image.

The Aftermath — What to Expect After a Root Canal

Hours after a root canal treatment, you will remain numb from the anesthesia. Wait for the effect to wear off before you eat anything because you can accidentally bite and damage an area in your mouth that’s still numb. Once it subsides, you may try to eat soft foods that require little chewing, such as soup and apple sauce. Avoid any hard foods that might cause damage to the now healing gums and fragile tooth.

You should also steer clear of any sticky food or gum, as it may remove your new crown. Also, since your gums might be sensitive to extreme temperatures, take your food neither too hot nor too cold to avoid any discomfort.

It is normal to experience sensitivity and mild to moderate root canal infection pain. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), may provide temporary relief. Pain that lasts longer than a few days may indicate that the tooth needs additional cleaning of the canals or further treatment from your dentist.

If there are no problems, you should be able to return to normal a day after a successful root canal.

As you can see, a root canal infection doesn’t have to be scary. Your dentist will be able to treat it quickly and with success.