What Is Root Canal Disease And How Can You Identify The Symptoms?

root canal

Are you experiencing severe toothache or sensitivity? If you run your tongue around your teeth, do you notice anything unusual – for example, a crack or a chip, or swelling?

If a tooth becomes decayed or infected, it can be incredibly painful to go through. Therefore, you should seek professional help as soon as possible – your dentist will be able to determine whether you not you need to undergo a root canal procedure.

If you’re unsure exactly what a root canal is, what symptoms to look out for and what the procedure entails, we have all the information you need to know.

What is root canal?

A root canal is when a tooth becomes badly decayed or infected and requires treatment. During root canal therapy the damaged “pulp” that has caused the infection is cleared and the tooth is cleaned.

The “pulp” refers to the soft area at the centre of the tooth that is made up of blood vessels, connective tissues and nerves (aka the “pulp chamber”). The nerve of a tooth is located in a “legs” or “root” of the tooth, however, after the tooth is fully grown the nerve is not crucial. Instead, it’s the main function is to identify between hot and cold.

Root canal disease occurs when the “rot” at the top of the tooth travels down into the root of the tooth, which can be incredibly painful and uncomfortable for the sufferer.

Why would someone need a root canal?

There are a few reasons why someone would need to undergo for a root canal. These include:

  • Tooth damage: when the tooth becomes cracked or chipped, which can cause tooth decay and therefore root canal pain.
  • Tooth decay: when the tooth becomes decayed, and then the decay has spread to other areas of the tooth including the nerves, causing pain.
  • Tooth disease: when the tooth’s pulp becomes severely decayed and infected due to trauma, tooth fillings or cracks and chips in the tooth.

What can happen if a root canal isn’t treated?

If a severely decayed or infected tooth is left untreated, it can cause serious health complications later down the line.

When the pulp becomes damaged, the infection can spread within the pulp chamber and eventually throughout the rest of the tooth. The bacteria can then cause the tooth to become abscessed, which is incredibly painful and often means that the sufferer has trouble eating, speaking or could even experience head and neck pain.

Other health issues that a decayed tooth could cause include severe swelling in the face, head and neck. It can also cause bone loss within the tooth and complications around the gums.

Is a root canal painful?

The actual root canal procedure is assumed by many to be incredibly painful, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, the therapy can be entirely painless, and actually, the only painful part is the pain caused by the decay or infection before the procedure has actually taken place. A root canal is considered no more painful than getting a filling.

What does root canal therapy consist of?

The purpose of root canal therapy is to eliminate the pain by removing the decayed, damaged or infected pulp and tissue of the tooth where the sufferer is experiencing pain.

The procedure may involve a few visits to the dentist to determine the severity of the problem. If a dentist suspects that your tooth pain is caused by an infection, he or she may suggest a root canal therapy, but not before doing an X-ray. An X-ray can clearly identify where the decay is located and its size, and advise the dentist on how to move forward.

When you and your dentist have agreed that a root canal is the best option, a dose of local anesthesia will be administered to the problem tooth. An opening will then be made in the tooth, and the diseased pulp will be removed. This is known as pulpectomy. The area is then filled and sealed with a material (gutta percha) to protect it from further contamination. In some cases, a crown is placed over the tooth to prevent it from becoming infected or damaged again in the future.

Warning signs that you need a root canal

There are a number of symptoms that could indicate the need for a root canal. These include:

  • Tooth pain: if you experience intense tooth pain when pressure is applied (i.e. chewing, drinking or clenching) it could be a sign of decay.
  • Tooth sensitivity: if your tooth is suddenly very sensitive to hold or cold liquids or foods, you should buy some specialist toothpaste. If the problem persists, seek professional advice.
  • Damage to the exterior of the tooth: if you feel or see that your tooth is either chipped, cracked or has a hole in it, you should speak to your dentist.
  • Swelling around the tooth: if you experience painful swelling or tenderness around a tooth (similar to a pimple or blister) that has been fully grown for a long time, it could indicate dental issues that must be addressed.
  • Discolouration of the tooth: if you notice that your tooth has darkened or blackened it could be a sign of decay.
  • An abscess: if an abscess or lesion forms on the gum surrounding a tooth it could indicate a serious problem.

If you experience any of these problems, and especially if they persist, you should seek advice from your dental professional and maybe consider undergoing a root canal procedure.

How to prevent needing a root canal

There are plenty of things you can do to avoid having to undergo a root canal procedure. These include:

  • Practise good dental hygiene: you should brush your teeth twice a day, floss regularly and use an antibacterial mouthwash daily. And be consistent!
  • Seek assistance as soon as you experience any tooth pain: a toothache can signal a number of issues, so you should seek professional advice as soon as you can to avoid developing any serious complications.


A toothache is incredibly unpleasant, especially when left untreated. If you notice anything unusual in your teeth and gums, you should speak to your dentist at your earliest convenience, so that the issue doesn’t develop into something more serious.