Dr. Lavin holding a dental instrument

It’s nearly impossible to go through many years of life without some form of tooth pain, sensitivity or discomfort. Eating a hard piece of food, chewing ice or another frozen item, falling and hitting your jaw or teeth, decay or periodontal disease—things can happen everyday that cause short or long-term tooth pain.

When is tooth pain and sensitivity normal, and when is it a sign that you might need a root canal?

Only your dentist or endodontist can confirm whether you actually need a root canal. But this list of five signs you might need a root canal may help determine whether it’s time to set up an appointment with your dentist for a closer look.

1. Serious tooth pain when you are eating or putting pressure on the tooth area.

This is the most common symptom of a tooth that needs a root canal. The type of pain that may indicate it’s time for a root canal can be caused by pressure or “tapping” on the tooth. It can feel like the pain is throbbing, like a heartbeat. The pain may continue on and off throughout the day.

2. Tender or swollen gums near the area of tooth pain.

Tender or swollen gums can be an indicator of an infection. An active infection inside the tooth requires root canal treatment. If you’re noticing ongoing tenderness or swollen gums near a tooth that is experiencing pain, your dentist will want to determine whether an infection is coming from your tooth.

3. Pain or sensitivity to hot or cold that remains after the hot or cold source has been removed.

Some sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures can be normal for most teeth. However, if the sensitivity is new or increased, or if the sensitivity doesn’t improve once the stimulus has been removed, it may be an indication the nerve in your tooth has begun to die. If your dentist diagnoses this, root canal therapy offers the only opportunity to keep your tooth.

4. A small bump on the gums near the painful area.

Much like swollen or tender gums, if you notice a bump on your gums, often with a pimple-like head, it may be an indication of an infection in your tooth or gums. Often called a “gum boil,” these bumps are your body’s way to vent off pressure from a dental infection. Unfortunately, if the infection originates from inside your tooth, a root canal will be necessary.

5. Darkening of the tooth

While dark teeth are not always an indication of root damage, one tooth that is significantly darker than the others is often a first telltale symptom that will queue your dentist to take a closer look and examine to see if the root of your tooth may be damaged or the nerve is dying. This can be caused by trauma to the tooth, such as a hard fall or knock on the tooth, and may take years to fully darken. Many times, the darkened tooth doesn’t have any pain, but may still require a root canal to prevent future pain or damage to the tooth or surrounding bone. .

These five signs are not always indications you need endodontic treatment (root canal). But if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms are aren’t sure what to do next, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your ge dentist to determine if a root canal is necessary to return your teeth and gums to better health. If your dentist determines you need endodontic care, we’d love to see you here to take care of the issue and get you back to feeling great.