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What Causes A Root Canal To Be Needed?

Root canals have essentially reached urban legend status as a terrifying, dreadful experience. But, the truth is, thanks to modern dentistry, they aren’t that bad. But, why are root canals even necessary, and what causes a root canal to be needed? Keep reading to find out.

What Is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a dental treatment that’s used to repair and save a tooth that is infected.. Deep decay can cause irritation, inflammation and infection to the tooth’s nerve (or pulp): so can repeated dental procedures on a tooth, large fillings, trauma to the face or tooth cracks.

Why Are Root Canals Needed?

A lot of people falsely believe that poor oral hygiene is the root of all dental issues. Although poor oral hygiene can certainly trigger a root canal procedure, it’s far from the only cause. Someone may need a root canal due to the following reasons:

Tooth Decay

The primary cause of all root canals is tooth decay. As the decay  progresses towards the tooth’s pulp chamber, teeth become incredibly sensitive when hot or cold drinks or food are consumed. However, sometimes the decay can be removed without the need for a root canal. When the decay advances too far, bacteria enter the pulp and causes an infection or potentially an abscess in the bone. Since this damages the nerves slowly over time, the symptoms are not always evident until it is too late.  

Dental Trauma 

Trauma is another leading cause of root canal treatments. Whether someone has experienced a blow to the mouth as a child, a work-related injury, or a car accident, dental trauma can lead to the immediate or future need for a root canal. Dental trauma can also occur when an old deeper filling is replaced with a new  filling.

Cracked Fillings  

Cracked fillings or teeth can lead to inflammation and infection of the tooth.. IF the nerve becomes inflamed and causes pain and sensitivity that is untreated, a root canal may be eventually required to relieve the symptoms.

Signs You Might Need a Root Canal

The following symptoms are often tell-tale signs that a root canal is needed:

Persistent Pain

Persistent tooth pain is a leading sign that something isn’t right. Often, people who report persistent pain require root canals. Sometimes the pain may pop up and go away, only to return. Other times, you may experience pain all the time or feel the pain deep in your tooth’s bone or in your face, jaw or other teeth.

Tooth Sensitivity 

If your teeth have suddenly become sensitive when you consume hot or cold foods or drinks, you may need a root canal, especially if the sensitivity and pain linger, even after you’ve stopped eating or drinking. Teeth hurting when consuming hot or cold products may be an indication that the pulp is  infected or damaged.

Tooth Discolouration

An infection in the tooth pulp can cause the teeth to become discoloured. This is because trauma to the teeth or the degradation of internal tissue can damage the teeth’s roots and result in a greyish-black appearance.

Swollen Gums

If your gums are swollen near the tooth that is causing you pain, you likely have an issue that will require a root canal. This swelling may be persistent or may come and go. It can also be tender to the touch or not painful at all. The swelling is often caused by the acidic waste products of dead pulp tissues. Sometimes the swelling will present itself as a little gum pimple, known as a gum boil or abscess. Sometimes, the pimple will ooze pus from the infected tooth, producing a bad taste and odour.

No matter what caused your root canal, it’s a smart idea to contact your dentist ASAP if you start to experience tooth pain, especially if it’s persistent. Early diagnosis and treatment lead to the best outcome possible.

How to Prevent Root Canals

Preventing root canals and most other dental problems starts with good dental hygiene. To keep your teeth in tip-top shape, follow these steps:

  • Brush your teeth at least two times per day.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.
  • Use toothpaste or mouthwash that contains fluoride.
  • Attend regular checkups with your dentist.
  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned at least once per year.
  • Limit the number of sugary foods and drinks you consume.
  • Rinse your mouth or brush your teeth after consuming sugary foods and/or drinks.


A root canal is a significant dental procedure. But, the good news is, proper oral hygiene and good diet and preventive care by your dentist can help prevent them. If you have any more questions about ‘what causes a root canal to be needed?’ or you’d like to schedule a root canal or dental checkup, book an appointment with The Dental Family Beaumaris today.

The Dental Family Beaumaris