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A tooth that hurts spontaneously or hurts so badly you can’t work or sleep may be infected or abscessed. An infected tooth should not be ignored–it can have very serious consequences, such as the loss of that tooth–and others–or the spread of the infection through the body. Root canal therapy removes the infection and makes the tooth functional again. Although many people fear root canal procedures, these treatments actually reduce pain–they don’t cause it!
Symptoms of an Infected Tooth
There are many symptoms that can tell you might have an infected tooth.If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should talk to a dentist:
- Spontaneous tooth pain
- Tooth sensitivity to heat, cold, or pressure that causes lasting pain
- Tooth pain that interferes with sleep or daily life
- Pimple on gums near tooth
- Localized warmth on gums or tooth
- Chronic bad breath or foul taste in the mouth
- Tooth becomes discolored
These symptoms don’t always indicate an infected tooth, but they do indicate you might have an infected tooth, and once the symptoms show up, you want to eliminate the possibility of an infected tooth, which can have serious consequences.
People often focus on the pain associated with an infected tooth. Often, they are quite painful, but it’s also possible to have an infected tooth that doesn’t hurt.
Chronic bad breath should always be investigated, because it’s often a sign of bacterial infection, whether in your teeth or your gums.
If a single tooth spontaneously becomes discolored, it’s likely a sign of infection. Other causes of a single tooth becoming discolored include tooth trauma or the presence of a metal amalgam filling.
Consequences of an Infected Tooth
It’s important to get an infected tooth treated promptly. If you don’t get your infected tooth treated soon, you may experience negative consequences, such as:
- Loss of the tooth
- Loss of other teeth
- Damage to jawbone
- Chronic sinus or ear infections
- Systemic inflammation
- Heart problems
- Spread of infection to brain, which can be fatal
In addition to the pain and dysfunction of an infected tooth, an untreated infection can damage the tooth beyond repair. The infection can spread to the jawbone, enter other teeth, and spread to the sinuses. Chronic untreated infections also lead to systemic inflammation, which has been linked to many health conditions as diverse as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and cancer.
Bacterial from an infected tooth have recently become suspected in serious heart conditions, including heart attack and stroke.
In rare cases, untreated infections in teeth can spread through the sinuses into the brain, causing a potentially fatal infection.
How Root Canal Therapy Works
In root canal therapy, the goal is to remove the living portion of the tooth, called the pulp or sometimes the nerve. This is what has become infected, causing pain and allowing infection to spread through the body.
Your dentist will open the tooth to access the interior. Then the infected tissue will be removed as well as the uninfected remainder of the pulp. This is done to prevent future infections. Then the tooth is refilled with an inert substance that replicates the strength and cushioning ability of the tooth pulp. Sometimes a tooth post is added for support.
The tooth is shaped, an impression is taken, and a temporary dental crown is placed while the final dental crown is designed in a lab. When the final crown is ready, the temporary is removed and the final crown is placed.
A tooth treated with root canal therapy can continue to function and look attractive for decades to come. It will not feel different from your other teeth, but it should be immune to future infections.
Is Root Canal Therapy Painful?
Root canal therapy has a reputation for being a painful, unpleasant procedure. But this reputation has been passed down from the days when dental anesthesia was either unreliable or unavailable. A modern root canal procedure will cause little to no discomfort during the procedure. After the procedure, you may experience some discomfort, but this passes quickly, and within a week, most people find their discomfort after a root canal procedure is less than it was before the procedure. We take extra care to ensure all our patients have a pleasant experience, even if they’re getting root canal therapy.