If you’re one of the millions of people who has received root canal therapy over the last few years, then you’re probably wondering what you can do to keep your teeth healthy and safe.
Luckily, in the majority of cases your root canal should be absolutely fine if you continue to practice good oral hygiene and see your dentist regularly. Despite the safety and efficacy of root canals, it’s still important to understand what can occasionally go wrong years down the road from a root canal. Let’s talk about how to recognize the signs of potential damage — and what to do if any issues emerge.
The Anatomy of a Root Canal
When you initially had your root canal, it was because damage, decay, or trauma had opened up the sensitive inner pulp of your tooth to bacteria. As opposed to the white, hard enamel on the outside of your tooth, the pulp is not visible. Instead, the pulp — which is full of blood vessels, connective tissue, and nerves — lives in the root canal below the surface of your gums. Once the sensitive pulp became infected, it causes pain and inflammation.
At this point, your dentist removed the pulp, cleaned the “root canal” that houses the pulp, and placed a filling in the canal. Then, they probably placed a crown on top to further protect your tooth. If all went well, your tooth soon returned to normal functioning and the root canal was no longer a concern. Most importantly, the original root canal allowed you to keep your original tooth — which is always the best case scenario.
What Can You do at Home to Keep your Root Canal Safe?
There are plenty of actions you can take at home to help prevent a failed root canal. Because root canal issues are often related to decay, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene:
- Brush your teeth twice daily, and after meals if possible.
- Use a toothpaste with fluoride to prevent decay.
- Floss at least once daily.
- Minimize sugar and rinse your mouth out after eating or drinking sugary products.
- See your dentist regularly for check-ups, including tooth cleanings every six months.
When it comes to maintaining your oral health, rest assured that brushing and flossing is the first step towards keeping your root canal protected. At the same time, it’s pivotal to partner with a dental team that can help guide your oral health habits, remove tartar to prevent decay, and keep your gums in perfect condition.
Occasional Root Canal Complications
Though root canals go well in the majority of cases, there are some situations that can cause complications. In this case, the root of a tooth might become re-infected or an abscess may form. Let’s take a look at some of these special situations:
- Injury. In some cases, a trauma or injury can crack your crown or fracture your teeth. Unfortunately, this means that the root canal area can be exposed to more bacteria.
- Decay. Even without an injury, tooth decay can create an entry point for bacteria into the tooth, causing a new infection.
- Canal anatomy. Some people have narrow, curved, or complicated dental canals. In these rare cases, it’s possible that the pulp space wasn’t originally cleared out in the initial root canal. When bacteria is left behind, it can cause infection or an abscess.
- Delayed crown. Sometimes, when a crown placement is delayed for too long, it can allow bacteria to enter the root canal.
Because of these risk factors for root canal complication, it’s important to be diligent with oral health and hygiene. Additionally, make sure to talk to your doctor about any symptoms that might indicate a failed root canal.
Signs and Symptoms of a Root Canal That needs Attention
In the majority of root canals, you won’t have to worry about root canal failure. In the rare case of a failed root canal, you’ll probably experience some of the same symptoms you had when you needed your original root canal. For example, you might feel:
- Tooth pain when biting or chewing
- Extreme sensitivity to heat and cold
- Tenderness near your gums
- Swelling and discoloration of the gum tissue
- Fever from infection
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your dentist immediately. Untreated infections and abscesses can cause damage to your teeth, gums, and jaw bone.
In addition, pay close attention to the signs of tooth decay. While this includes pain, sensitivity, and toothache, there are also visible signs of decay. If you notice any holes or pits forming in the tooth of your original root canal (or any of your teeth) make sure to see your dentist right away.
When You Need Professional Help
As soon as you start to feel tooth or jaw pain in the area of a root canal, it’s important to see a dentist. Without professional help, an infection can spread and cause further problems. Once you’ve seen your doctor and determined there’s an issue with the previous root canal, your dentist might recommend a few options.
Sometimes, they’ll recommend root canal retreatment options, where the old filling is removed and the canals inside are carefully and thoroughly cleaned. This should get rid of any bacteria or infected tissue, and help your tooth get back to normal. In other cases, your dentist might recommend a dental surgery called apicoectomy, where the root tip of the canal is removed surgically through the gum tissue.
Whatever the recommendation, seeing a dentist for recurring tooth pain is always a great idea. They can help guide you, ease your concerns, and make sure you make the best choice for your dental health.
More Questions? North Boulder Dental Group Can Help
At North Boulder Dental Group, we’re proud to provide dental services for our patients in Boulder, CO. Our kind, compassionate, and experienced team is well-versed in dental issues — and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have about your oral health. Whether you’d like to schedule a consultation to check up on your overall dental health, or you’d like to talk to us about current issues with a years-old root canal, we can help. Just contact us today to get started.