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Tooth problems can difficult to localize, identify, and understand but here are five symptoms that you will go through if you need root canal treatment

The most common reason why a person has to get root canal treatment is tooth decay — but this is actually far from the only reason why it is done. Irrespective of the basic cause, though, certain signs and symptoms are considered particularly indicative for the need for root canal treatment.

Knowing and recognizing these signs and symptoms can help you understand what you may be going through and communicating them clearly to your dentist will help in the decision-making process. 

These are the five signs and symptoms you need root canal treatment.

1. Pain

Pain can be subjective and is very difficult to quantify. One person may find something very painful while another may find it quite bearable. How then should pain be relied upon as a reliable symptom for root canal treatment?

There are certain qualities of pain a patient can clearly recognize. The first is pain when eating or drinking hot food. Typically, decay which has not yet reached the center of the tooth can be treated with just a filling. Most patients describe sensitivity to cold and sweet food rather than hot food.

Once the patient starts feeling pain and discomfort while taking hot food or beverages, chances are the decay has reached the nerve and requires root canal treatment.

Similarly, pain that increases at night and radiates to different parts of the head is also a very strong indicator that root canal treatment is necessary. The pressure on the nerve endings increases during lying down causing the increase in nocturnal pain while the connections of the tooth to the larger nerves which supply other parts of the head and neck are responsible for the radiating pain.

2. Tenderness

Dental caries or tooth decay is generally quite slow to progress. It starts with a tiny speck or discoloration and then continues to spread until it reaches the center of the tooth when root canal treatment becomes the only option to treat the tooth.

Once the nerve endings have become involved, one of the things that patients will complain of is tenderness in the tooth. This can manifest as difficulty in chewing food and in severe cases can cause discomfort even on touching its counterpart inside the mouth.

This tenderness can help distinguish between several affected teeth in close proximity to each other and help the dentist identify which tooth is causing the biggest problem at that moment. A light tapping with a blunt instrument is enough to elicit pain in the patient.   

3. Food lodgment

There can be quite a few reasons why food may be getting lodged in between different teeth of the jaws. In fact, one of the reasons why decay begins in the first place is because of food getting stuck and allowing disease-causing bacteria to flourish. Once decay begins, though, the tooth will become increasingly damaged and the space for food getting stuck in between the teeth will keep on growing. It is a self-fulfilling vicious circle that ends up causing trouble. If you find that there is one place in the mouth where food is always getting stuck between the teeth then getting ti checked out is important.

If this food lodgment is associated with pain or discomfort then there is a very good chance that the affected tooth or teeth will require root canal treatment.

4. Change in color of the tooth

Not all teeth that require root canal treatment are painful and patients may actually recognize the need to get the treatment done through a color change in the affected tooth/teeth. The change in color occurs when a tooth has "died" from the inside, meaning that the blood supply to the tooth has been compromised.

This could happen as a result of a blow to the tooth as can be seen during a fall, sports injuries, car accidents, or just bumping your tooth against a bottle, glass, or another person. Any blunt trauma to the tooth could cause it to die from inside.

This injury may not get the patient’s immediate attention because of the lack of pain but it can cause a darkening of the tooth. The front teeth are more affected by such trauma, causing an esthetic concern to the patient.

The treatment of this darkened tooth begins with root canal treatment to remove any necrotized or dying tissue that may be remaining inside the tooth. Teeth which have been decayed for a long period of time and have eventually died also change color even though they may never end up causing pain.   

5. Swelling or draining pus around the tooth

A cracked tooth, an injury to the tooth, or a deep-seated infection can also manifest as a swelling around the teeth and face without any other clear indication. In such a case, the dentist will often take an X-ray to find that the root ends are infected and there is pus being formed inside the jawbones.

This pus can find a way outside into the mouth through a sinus opening. The patient may complain of a greenish discharge from a small swelling inside the tooth or a bad taste in the mouth. This swelling and pus discharge can be associated with pain on some occasions but not always.

Root canal treatment is the way to address this situation so that the infection can be eradicated once and for all.


There are a wide variety of symptoms that can indicate the need for a root canal. The five mentioned above are considered as the strongest indicators at least one of them is likely to be present in the vast majority of the cases. There can also be times, though, when no apparent signs and symptoms are present but those cases are relatively rare.  

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