What Causes the Need for a Root Canal?

woman with tooth that hurts

A root canal is an attempt to save your tooth after your nerve has been exposed to bacteria from a crack, or irreversibly inflamed. But what causes the need for a root canal, and how can you prevent the procedure? Read my answers to these root canal FAQ’s and more.

Did you recently schedule a root canal? It’s okay to be nervous about it, but the procedure is surprisingly commonplace and highly effective.

A root canal is a standard procedure, and very common – nearly 15 million root canals are performed in the U.S. every year. And the procedure has a 95 percent success rate, meaning most teeth fixed with root canal therapy can last a lifetime.

A root canal is needed when a tooth becomes irreversibly inflamed and damaged. The tooth’s dental pulp – often called the “nerve” – became exposed to bacteria, and therefore needs to be removed to deter further pain and infection.

Read below about what may have caused your root canal, the procedure involved, and how to prevent another one in the future.

1. What causes a root canal?

*Decay. This is the main reason patients need root canals. If a cavity becomes large enough, it can enter your pulp chamber or nerve. If bacteria enters this chamber, it causes pain, and sometimes, an infection.

As a result, a root canal is needed to save your tooth and reduce pain.

*Trauma. If your tooth cracks or breaks, there’s a good chance you’ll need a root canal — trauma to your tooth can also expose your pulp chamber, damage your nerve and cause pain.

Again, the nerve will need to be removed to salvage your tooth.

Additionally, you can have a root canal performed on any tooth with a nerve —meaning front and back teeth alike.

2. How do you know if you need a root canal?

If you remember anything from this post, please remember this: if you’re experiencing tooth pain, pay a visit to your dentist immediately.

The following symptoms indicate a root canal is needed:

  • Severe toothache pain from chewing.
  • Your tooth hurts longer than it should after exposure to hot or cold temperatures.
  • Darkening or discoloration of the tooth.
  • Swollen and tender gums surrounding a tooth, or a “rotten” taste in your mouth.
  • Dental abscess.

However, sometimes, a person may show no symptoms at all. That’s why it’s important to schedule regular appointments with your dentist for check-ups.

3. What happens during the root canal procedure?

During a root canal procedure, the infected nerve and pulp are removed. Then, the tooth’s interior is cleaned and sealed. A crown is placed on top of the affected tooth to ensure it maintains its proper function — i.e., chewing.

Although sometimes misconceived to be severely painful, patients report the root canal procedure is the same, if not less painful than filling a cavity.

Read about the procedure more in-depth here.

4.  Do you need a dental crown after a root canal?

Yes. A dental crown — a tooth-shaped cap — usually needs to be placed over a root canal-treated tooth to protect the remaining tooth structure and replace the function of the molar teeth (chewing and grinding food).

However, a crown may not be necessary if a front tooth is treated instead of a molar. Because we do not typically chew or grind with our front teeth, the structure is usually less compromised than the structure of a molar tooth.

Want to know more about the nuts and bolts of dental crowns? Click here.

5. How can you best prevent a root canal?

Root canals are prevented the same way cavities are prevented. Brush and floss your teeth, and get regular check-ups. If you are experiencing tooth pain, see your dentist ASAP. It’s great if we can catch it early.

If you have a cavity, get it filled right away. (This is huge.) If you don’t, it can lead to an infection, which can be dangerous.

Sometimes, you simply cannot prevent a root canal — for instance, if you get hit in the face with a baseball. Unfortunately, these things just happen.

Although you may be nervous about the prospect of getting a root canal, remember that it’s a standard, common procedure.  It will also ensure the long-term health of your teeth.  Please let us know if you have any questions.


Call us today with any questions or to book your appointment!

Glendale:  414-352-1600 or Greendale:  414-421-2303


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