Does the term “root canal” make you cringe?

That’s totally understandable, it’s not like they have a reputation for being fun. They are, sometimes, a necessary part of life though… especially if you have a history of cavities and plaque buildup or have experienced a recent injury to the mouth such as a chipped tooth. If you think you need a root canal, the sooner you take care of it, the better. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to help you recognize the signs you may need a root canal.


In short, a root canal is a procedure that removes the decay in your tooth’s root and pulp.

Let’s start from the outside and work our way in. Your teeth have an outer layer of enamel, below that is a layer of dentin (the largest structural component of the tooth). Under that is the soft core of your tooth, which extends to the root in your jawbone. The dental pulp is in the core of the tooth, it contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. That’s why you usually feel pain or discomfort when you need a root canal, the pulp is usually inflamed or infected, sometimes even dead.


A root canal can take a few hours to complete. During your appointment your dentist will:

  1. Remove bacteria and decay from pulp and the root.
  2. Use antibiotics to disinfect the area.
  3. Fill the empty roots.
  4. Seal that area to prevent further decay.

At the end, part of your natural tooth is left in place, but it’s much more fragile now. That’s why we recommend covering it with a crown.

You may feel some pain or discomfort during the procedure, but with today’s technology, a root canal is more like receiving an extra deep filling. Your dentist will also use a local anesthetic to numb your tooth and gums.


Before discussing symptoms, it should be made clear that the only way to be sure that you need a root canal is to make an appointment with your dentist. If you experience any of the following signs, please make an appointment as soon as possible.

  • PAIN: Persistent pain in your tooth is one of the biggest signs you may need a root canal. The pain could be constant or may go away periodically but always returns quickly. Sometimes the pain is deep in the bone of the tooth, sometimes however, it’s referred pain in your jaw or face. There could be several other reasons you’re feeling tooth pain including a cavity, gum disease, damaged filling, even a sinus infection, which is why it’s important to get all tooth pain looked at by a dentist as early as possible.
  • DISCOLORATION: An infection in the pulp is likely to cause your tooth to become discoloured. When the tooth or tissue is traumatized by an infection, the tooth takes on a dark grey or black look.
  • SENSITIVITY: If you wince when you sip hot tea, or bite into an ice cream cone and the pain lingers, even after you’re done eating, that could be a bad sign. It could be a dull ache, or a sharp pain, either way, sensitivity to temperature can be an indication that the nerves are damaged or infected.
  • SWOLLEN GUMS: If your tooth is experiencing consistent pain or there’s an infection hiding underneath, it’s no surprise that your gums become inflamed. It’s also possible for an abscess to form. This looks like a little pimple on your gums. The pimple will eventually ooze pus from the infection in the nearby tooth. This leaves you with an unpleasant taste in your mouth and foul-smelling breath.

You’re right to be concerned about any of these symptoms. Making an appointment with a dentist is your best course of action for eliminating pain and preventing further damage to the area.