Holyrood Dental - patient getting a root canal procedure

What Are the Symptoms of Needing a Root Canal?

A root canal is a dental procedure designed to save a severely infected or decayed tooth. It involves removing the infected pulp from inside the tooth and sealing it to prevent further damage. Despite common misconceptions, root canals are a standard and effective treatment for preserving natural teeth and relieving pain.

Understanding Root Canal Treatment

What is a root canal?

A root canal refers to the inner chamber of a tooth that houses the pulp, which contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. When this pulp becomes infected or inflamed due to decay or injury, a root canal procedure is necessary to remove the infected tissue and save the tooth.

Why is it needed?

Root canal treatment becomes necessary when the pulp inside a tooth becomes infected or damaged, usually due to deep decay, a cracked tooth, or repeated dental procedures on the same tooth. Without treatment, the infection can spread to the surrounding tissues and lead to severe pain, abscess formation, and even tooth loss.

Symptoms of Needing a Root Canal

Pain and discomfort

Persistent tooth pain, especially when biting or chewing, can indicate the need for a root canal. The pain may range from mild to severe and may linger even after the stimulus, such as cold or heat, is removed.

Sensitivity to hot and cold

Increased sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, lasting even after the stimulus is removed, may signal underlying dental issues requiring root canal treatment. This sensitivity may indicate damage or infection within the tooth’s pulp.

Swollen gums

Swelling or tenderness in the gums around a specific tooth can indicate an infection that may require root canal therapy. Swollen gums may be accompanied by pain, redness, or even the formation of a pimple-like bump on the gum.

Discoloration of the tooth

A tooth that has become darkened or discolored may indicate damage or decay within the pulp, necessitating a root canal to save the tooth. Discoloration may occur gradually or suddenly, depending on the underlying cause.

Prolonged sensitivity to pressure

Persistent sensitivity or discomfort when applying pressure to the tooth, such as during chewing or brushing, may indicate an underlying issue requiring root canal therapy. This sensitivity may persist despite the absence of any visible signs of damage or decay.

Abscess formation

The formation of a pimple-like bump on the gums, accompanied by pus or drainage, may indicate an abscessed tooth that requires immediate attention, including root canal treatment. Abscesses are serious dental infections that can spread to the jawbone and surrounding tissues if left untreated.

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection of symptoms indicating the need for a root canal is crucial for preventing further complications and preserving the natural tooth. Seeking prompt dental care when experiencing tooth pain, sensitivity, or swelling can help address the underlying issue before it worsens. Ignoring symptoms may lead to more extensive damage, requiring more invasive treatments.

Diagnosing the Need for a Root Canal

Dental examination

During a dental examination, your dentist will assess the health of your teeth and gums, looking for signs of infection, decay, or damage that may necessitate root canal treatment. They may also inquire about any symptoms you’re experiencing and perform tests, such as tapping on the tooth or using temperature stimuli, to evaluate its sensitivity.


X-rays are essential for diagnosing issues within the tooth that may not be visible during a visual examination alone. They can reveal signs of infection, decay, or damage to the pulp, helping your dentist determine whether root canal therapy is necessary. X-rays also assist in planning the treatment process and identifying any additional complications.

Treatment Options

Root canal therapy

Root canal therapy involves removing the infected or damaged pulp from inside the tooth, cleaning and disinfecting the root canal, and filling it with a biocompatible material to seal it off. This procedure helps eliminate the source of infection and prevents further damage to the tooth, allowing it to function normally and remain in place.


In cases where a tooth is severely damaged or cannot be saved with root canal therapy, extraction may be the only viable option. Although extraction may seem drastic, it’s necessary to prevent the spread of infection and preserve the health of surrounding teeth and tissues. Your dentist will discuss alternative treatments, such as dental implants or bridges, to replace the extracted tooth and restore your smile.

Prevention Tips

Maintaining good oral hygiene is key to preventing the need for root canal treatment and other dental issues. Brushing and flossing regularly, using fluoride toothpaste, and avoiding sugary foods and drinks can help keep your teeth healthy and free from decay. Additionally, attending regular dental check-ups and cleanings allows your dentist to detect and address any potential problems before they escalate.

Recovery Process

After undergoing root canal therapy, it’s normal to experience some discomfort or sensitivity in the treated tooth. Your dentist may prescribe pain medication or recommend over-the-counter options to manage any discomfort. It’s essential to follow your dentist’s post-treatment instructions carefully and attend follow-up appointments to ensure proper healing and monitor your progress.

Myths Surrounding Root Canal

Painful procedure

Contrary to popular belief, root canal therapy is not as painful as its reputation suggests. Advancements in dental techniques and anesthesia have made the procedure relatively comfortable for patients. While some may experience mild discomfort or soreness afterward, it is usually manageable with over-the-counter pain medication and subsides quickly.

Removal of the tooth

Root canal treatment aims to save the natural tooth whenever possible, rather than resorting to extraction. By removing the infected pulp and sealing off the root canal, dentists can preserve the structural integrity of the tooth and prevent the need for more invasive procedures, such as tooth extraction and replacement.


Recognizing the symptoms of needing a root canal is essential for maintaining good oral health and preserving your natural teeth. By understanding the signs that indicate the need for treatment and seeking prompt dental care, you can prevent further complications and enjoy a healthy, pain-free smile for years to come.


The need for a root canal can be caused by deep decay, trauma to the tooth, cracks or chips in the tooth, or repeated dental procedures on the same tooth.

It is normal to experience some discomfort or sensitivity after a root canal procedure, but this should gradually improve with time. If pain persists or worsens, it’s essential to contact your dentist.

The duration of a root canal procedure can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the tooth being treated. On average, a root canal can take one to two hours to complete.

While root canal treatment is highly successful in most cases, there is a small risk of failure due to factors such as incomplete removal of infected tissue or the presence of additional canals in the tooth.

Root canal treatment is generally considered safe for pregnant women, especially if there is an active infection that could pose a risk to both the mother and the developing fetus. However, it’s essential to consult with a dentist and OB-GYN to weigh the risks and benefits and ensure appropriate precautions are taken during treatment.

At Holyrood Dental in Holyrood near Ottewell, Edmonton, we are dedicated to providing exceptional dental care to our patients. Our team of experienced professionals is committed to ensuring your comfort and well-being throughout your dental journey. Whether you require a routine check-up, root canal treatment, or any other dental procedure, you can trust our expertise and personalized approach to meet your needs. We strive to create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere where you can feel relaxed and confident in the care you receive. Your oral health is our priority, and we look forward to serving you at Holyrood Dental.

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