What are the Signs You Need Root Canal Treatment?


If you are suffering from immense tooth pain or have been experiencing consistent throbbing pain in your tooth or teeth, these are possible signs you need root canal treatment to save your teeth from further dental damage. Some of the most common signs that you require a root canal treatment include: 

  • Chipped, or cracked tooth
  • Tooth with a hole in it 
  • Tooth with a growing cavity 
  • Severe toothache when chewing or drinking
  • Swelling of the face or neck regions
  • Abscess or lesion on the gum area, surrounding the tooth
  • Extreme sensitivity or pain in your tooth when drinking or eating hot or cold foods
  • Tooth discoloration and darkening 


Signs You Need Root Canal Treatment - Elite Dental Group

What is root canal treatment?

Root canal treatment is a restorative treatment that repairs teeth that have been damaged. This saves the teeth from having to be removed entirely. It also reduces the need for costlier procedures such as dental implants treatment. The procedure is called a root canal treatment as it involves cleaning out the internal canals of your tooth that extends into the root of the tooth.

During the procedure, your dentist will: 

  • Remove bacteria and decay from your tooth pulp, root and nerve;
  • Disinfect the area with a course of antibiotics;
  • Fill in the empty roots; and
  • Carefully seal up the area to prevent new decay.

While there are many myths that portray root canal treatment as an extremely painful procedure, the truth is that root canal treatment is no less painful or uncomfortable than any other dental procedure. With the help of modern technology and sedation, root canal treatment is painless.  

There is nothing to worry about if your endodontist or dentist recommends root canal treatment to treat diseased or damaged teeth. In essence, root canal treatment is a comfortable and quick procedure that can relieve tooth pain and save the natural tooth





Inside the tooth, there is a soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. It helps grow the tooth’s root during its development. Once fully developed, the tooth can survive without the pulp since it gets continued nourishment from the tissues that surround it.

Root canal treatment can be completed in a session or two, depending on the condition of the tooth and the personal circumstances of the patient. The procedure is similar to getting a routine filling and is painless and highly effective.

Saving the natural tooth through root canal treatment has several advantages including:

  • Efficient chewing
  • Natural appearance
  • Normal sensation and biting force
  • Protection of other teeth from excessive strain or wear



 What are the symptoms that I need root canal treatment?

 Some of the most prevalent signs you might be in need of root canal treatment include:


  • Persistent pain

Pain is one of the primary indicators that something is not right with a tooth. People who have trouble doing routine activities like eating or drinking without experiencing pain is advised to visit their dentist as soon as possible.

The dentist will examine the aching tooth to check if the nerves or blood vessels have become inflamed secondary to infection.


  • Sensitivity to heat or cold

Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common signs a patient is in need of root canal treatment. When the tooth constantly aches when consuming hot or cold foods and beverages, it is often a symptom of underlying dental issues. This is especially true if the sensitivity progresses into a sharp and intense pain.


  • Deep decay

Once decay has set in within the tooth’s base, no amount of brushing or flossing can solve the problem. If the cavity has been left unattended for far too long, it can eventually spread into the tooth’s nerve and root and damage them. In similar scenarios, root canal  treatment will likely be recommended.


  • Swollen gums

Swollen gums often indicate problems beneath the surface. For patients with swollen or painful gums, dentists will typically check to see if the pain is secondary to inflammation. In some cases, root canal treatment might be the best option to resolve the problem.


  • Tooth discolouration

Tooth discolouration can be attributed to several causes like poor hygiene and exposure to food and beverages that can stain the tooth enamel. However, in some cases, it can also be secondary to a damaged nerve beneath the tooth’s surface. When there is blood vessel or nerve damage, root canal might be recommended to remove the damaged root.


  • Prolonged sensitivity

For people who feel pain and experience tooth sensitivity that lasts for weeks or several months, root canal treatment might be a possibility. In most cases, prolonged tooth sensitivity is often traced to a damaged root—a condition which unfortunately won’t heal on its own.

If you experience sensitivity and pain that progresses and shows no signs of going away, check with your dentist right away so any dental issues are addressed accordingly before they escalate and cause more damage.



How do I know if I need a root canal treatment or a filling? 

Depending on the severity of the damage, your dentist will decide whether to go ahead with a root canal treatment or a filling. 

In cases where the infection has reached the pulp, root canal treatment will be needed. For minor cavities and tooth damage, a filling will suffice. 



Can a tooth that needs a root canal heal itself?

Unfortunately if the pulp of a tooth has been infected, it is not possible for the root canal to heal itself. In such a situation, root canal treatment is needed to remove the infected pulp. 

I have seen patients who assume that their root canal has healed because of the sudden lack of pain, but this just means that the nerves that are inside the tooth have died. While you might not feel the pain anymore, the infection will continue to be present inside your tooth. If this is left untreated, the bacterial infection from your infected tooth can spread to your jaw, brain, blood and the rest of your body.



How to avoid root canal treatment? 

While it is not possible to avoid dental wear and tear, it is possible to reduce the risk of needing treatments like root canal treatment if you have good dental and oral hygiene habits. Having good oral and dental hygiene means: 

  • Brushing and flossing after meals;
  • Using mouthwash; 
  • Visiting the dentist for regular dental maintenance; 
  • Using oral products such as oral irrigators, interdental cleaners and tongue cleaners in your daily dental cleaning routine. 



Do I need a root canal quiz

If you are hesitant to visit a dentist, you might want to do a self-assessment on your current dental condition to ascertain whether you require root canal treatment or further dental assistance. To help you with this, I have created a list of questions that you can run through.

Each answer has points allocated next to it. The higher the points, the more urgent it would be for you to head to a dentist for root canal treatment. 


What is the level of your pain? 

  • Light pain (1)
  • Bearable pain (2) 
  • Extreme pain (3) 
  • Severe pain (4) 


Do you experience pain when drinking or eating something?

  • No pain (0)
  • A little pain (1) 
  • A lot of pain (2) 
  • I do not want to drink anything (3)


Do you have any teeth sensitivity?

  • Yes a little (1) 
  • Yes I have been feeling teeth sensitivity for a few days (2)
  • No (0) 


Has any of the tooth turned dark or black? 

  • None (0) 
  • Maybe, I am not sure (1)
  • Yes (2)
  • A few teeth (3)


Are your gums inflamed or have bumps? 

  • No (0)
  • I am not sure (1) 
  • Yes, a few (2)
  • Yes, my gums are inflamed and have bumps (3)


What do you observe when you see your gums? 

  • They look normal (0)
  • There is a little redness (1) 
  • My gums are blood red (2) 
  • Some areas of my gums are dark brown (3)


Are you able to eat something right now? 

  • Yes (0) 
  • If the food is really soft (1)
  • I am not able to open my mouth to eat (2)
  • Not at all (3)


Can you see a chipped tooth? 

  • No (0)
  • I am not able to open my mouth due to pain (1) 
  • Yes I can (2)
  • Yes there are many (3)


Have you just started feeling pain? 

  • Yes, it started a few minutes ago (1) 
  • It started a few hours ago (2) 
  • The pain is intermittent (3) 
  • No, there has been consistent pain for a few days now (4) 


Is your cheek swelling? 

  • No (0)
  • Yes, there is light swelling but it is not noticeable (1) 
  • There is an obvious swell (2) 


Have you taken any painkillers? 

  • No (0)
  • Yes (1) 
  • Yes but it is not working (2) 




Experiencing dental pain can be a disorienting experience. If you have been experiencing any form of dental pain for a short or prolonged period of time, it is advisable to seek help from a dentist or an endodontist to see whether root canal treatment is needed. 




Dr Thira Wong is a restorative dentist at Elite Dental Group with a prime focus on root canal treatments and restorative dentistry procedures. She is known by her patients as the dentist who works with pain as she often relieves dental pain caused by toothaches and swollen or infected gums. Dr Thira Wong is an advocate for ethical dentistry and believes in practicing dentistry as if every single set of teeth were hers.