7 Signs You Might Need a Root Canal


Root canals, often associated with dental horror stories, are more common than you might expect. They are vital for preserving teeth and relieving intense pain caused by dental infections. By the end of this blog, you’ll gain a clear understanding of the signs and symptoms that may prompt you to consider a root canal.

In this blog, we’ll explore the realm of oral health, dispelling the myths and misconceptions surrounding one of dentistry’s most dreaded procedures: the root canal. If you’ve ever cringed at the mere thought of it, you’re not alone. Root canals have gained a reputation for being both feared and misunderstood, but they are an indispensable treatment. So, let’s explore the signs you might need a root canal without further ado!

What Is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a process that removes damaged or infected pulp from your tooth and fills the space. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue, so its removal means your tooth won’t sense temperature changes or pain anymore.

Root canals have a high success rate and enable you to retain your natural tooth. While the procedure isn’t painful, thanks to local anesthesia, you may experience soreness for a few days afterward. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever and following your dentist’s aftercare instructions can aid in recovery.

If you’re wondering what causes a root canal, it’s typically a result of deep decay due to untreated cavities, a cracked or broken tooth, or severe injury to the tooth. These conditions allow bacteria to enter the pulp of the tooth, leading to infection and inflammation. Here are some key warning signs:

1. Swelling and Tooth Pain

When you experience toothache and notice swollen gums, it may indicate an infected tooth that requires a root canal. Swelling around the tooth often signifies that the infection has extended beyond the tooth into the surrounding gum tissue and jawbone.

In the initial stages of infection, the swelling is typically soft as a response to inflammation. However, as the infection intensifies, the swelling can become firm and painful. Additionally, you might observe pus draining from the gum area, experience a foul taste in your mouth, and suffer from bad breath.

This swelling won’t naturally subside and will only worsen without treatment. Neglecting it could lead to the development of an abscess, forming a painful pocket of pus at the root tip.

2. Darkened Tooth Color

If your tooth has turned dark or discolored, it could be a sign that a root canal is needed. Normally, teeth are white or slightly yellow. However, a change in tooth color can indicate various issues:

  • A gray or dark brown color could suggest that the tooth’s nerve is infected or damaged. As the infection spreads within the tooth, it stains the dentin, the layer beneath the enamel.
  • Pink or red discoloration may be a sign of internal tooth bleeding resulting from nerve and blood vessel damage. The bleeding infiltrates the dentin, causing the discoloration.
  • A tooth that appears different in shade compared to the surrounding teeth may signal the nerve’s death, affecting blood flow within the tooth. The loss of blood flow alters the dentin, leading to tooth discoloration or darkening.

3. Sensitivity to Hot and Cold

If you experience tooth pain when consuming hot or cold items, it may suggest an infection in the tooth’s nerves. The tooth’s nerve resides within the pulp inside your tooth. Inflammation or infection of this nerve can result in sensitivity to temperature changes.

The pulp contains nerve tissue, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Damage to the pulp leads to this sensitivity. If left untreated, the inflammation can worsen over time, leading to persistent throbbing pain even after removing the hot or cold stimulus.

A root canal treatment effectively addresses this issue by removing the inflamed or infected pulp, cleaning and disinfecting the canals within the tooth’s roots, and then filling and sealing them. This process eliminates sensitivity by getting rid of the irritated nerve tissue. 

4. Bad Breath or Bad Taste

Foul breath or a persistent unpleasant taste in your mouth may indicate a root infection. When bacteria accumulate in your tooth’s pulp, they release gases into your saliva, causing bad breath and a bitter taste.

Ignoring these signs is not advisable, as the infection won’t resolve on its own and can continue to harm your tooth and supporting bone structure. It’s crucial to see your dentist promptly for an examination and potential root canal treatment to eliminate the infection, remove damaged tissue, and prevent tooth loss.

5. Visible Holes or Cracks

Noticing new holes, cracks, or fractures in your tooth could signal damage or infection in the pulp. The pulp contains vital blood vessels and nerves for tooth health.

An exposed or infected pulp won’t heal spontaneously. As the infection advances, you may experience throbbing nighttime pain, pain while chewing, gum swelling, or even a pimple-like gum swelling that discharges pus. These are all indications that you require immediate dental care, as the infection can enter your bloodstream if left untreated.

Once the pulp is exposed or infected, a root canal procedure is recommended. During this treatment, the dentist removes the pulp, disinfects the tooth’s interior, and seals it to prevent further infection.

6. Gum Abscesses

The presence of a gum lump resembling a pimple suggests a gum abscess, a pus pocket below the teeth in the gums.

A gum abscess is an advanced stage of tooth decay or damage, allowing bacteria to infect the tooth’s pulp. As the bacteria spread, a pus-filled pocket forms at the end of the tooth root in the gums. Swelling, pain, and pus are your body’s response to the infection.

Without treatment, the infection can spread to the surrounding bone or other head and neck areas. A root canal procedure is necessary to remove the infected pulp, disinfect the tooth’s interior, and seal it to prevent reinfection, often followed by the placement of a crown.

7. Loose Teeth

Loose teeth are a clear sign that a root canal may be needed. Since tooth stability relies on healthy roots, any damage can lead to tooth looseness or mobility. The tooth might shift or rock when you bite down, indicating a serious issue that demands immediate evaluation by your dentist. X-rays are often taken to determine the cause, whether it’s root damage, infection, or another problem like gum disease.

A root canal involves clearing out infected or damaged pulp from the roots, sealing and filling them to prevent reinfection, typically followed by the placement of a protective crown for stability.


With a grasp of the key warning signs pointing towards a potential root canal procedure, you’re empowered to act. Addressing dental issues promptly enhances your prospects of preserving your natural tooth. Remember, a root canal is not as intimidating as it might seem, and the value of maintaining your genuine smile is undeniable. Although no one eagerly anticipates dental procedures, you’ll appreciate addressing the issue before it escalates into an emergency. Don’t hesitate; reach out to your dentist at the earliest indication of trouble. Maintain your oral health and continue wearing that confident smile!