4 Ways to Tell That You May Need a Root Canal

Tooth pain is incredibly uncomfortable, sometimes crippling, and sometimes sporadic and ignored. Most of us probably can’t tell the difference in what’s causing our tooth pain. We might always assume that it’s a normal toothache, when in reality it may be more serious. Experiencing certain types of pain may be a sign that you need a root canal. 

Root canals are a procedure done to save an infected tooth. If the nerves inside of your teeth are damaged or dying, a dentist can go inside the tooth and try to repair the problem. This usually involves removing the bad nerve tissue and preserving what can be saved of the tooth. Basically, even if your tooth is in trouble, you have a good chance of saving it if you know the right symptoms to look for. 

How to Tell if it’s Time for a Root Canal

Lingering Pain 

It’s fairly common that teeth can be sensitive to a hot drink, or something like cold ice cream. Tooth sensitivity is a common symptom, but might be from a number of causes, which we’ve outlined in another blog post about tooth sensitivity. One distinguishing thing about the pain before a root canal is that is doesn’t go away. Once you stop drinking your hot cup of coffee, for instance, the pain may keep persisting. After lingering for an extended period of time, it may fade away. If a tooth becomes sensitive to temperature or when biting, then the pain that persists is a sign you may need to see a dentist for a dental exam.

Sleep Disturbance 

While tooth pain is fairly common, severe and situational tooth pain might also be a reliable sign of needing a root canal. Pain from your tooth might start to happen in certain positions, like bending over or laying down for bed. Once an infection starts spreading, the tooth and area around it can start keeping you up during the night. This is caused by abscesses within the tooth. 

An infection in your tooth can lead to abscesses. It’s a fairly scary word, and can mean some pretty bad things for your health. A damaged or infected nerve in your tooth can spread into your gum, and start to damage the bone in your jaw or nearby areas. This means that your tooth might start to make your jaw or ear hurt as well as your tooth, and means you should get it looked at right away.

Non-Pain Related Signs of Potentially Needing a Root Canal

Darkened Tooth 

When the inside of a tooth experiences decay, it can lead to a darkening of the entire tooth, or be seen on the top of the tooth. If you have a darkened tooth, you should get it examined immediately. Although it’s not a foolproof sign that you need a root canal, it’s a major tip-off that a tooth needs to be fixed. 


An x-ray of your teeth can show some obvious signs that you need a root canal. If a certain amount of calcium is gone from the tooth, it’s obvious to a dentist when looking at an x-ray. Some other signs, like abscesses, are also visible when looking at an x-ray. A root canal may even be necessary and simultaneously not causing you pain, but could be viewed on an x-ray. This is why routine x-rays are important, as well as x-rays that help to assess ongoing pain. 

What now: 

If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, it would be in your best interest to get a dental exam. Your dentist can assess whether or not having a root canal procedure is necessary to take care of the core issue or if it can be treated by less invasive measures.

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