How Do I Know if I Need a Root Canal?

Updated on October 4, 2021
Female patient concerned about toothache in modern dental clinic

A root canal is a common treatment for those who have an infected tooth. When the tooth begins to decay, the soft tissue inside the tooth, known as pulp, becomes infected and the tooth can become painful and sore. Root canals remove this decay and save the tooth, rather than having to get it removed. There are some common root canal symptoms that you should be aware of, so you can get dental help before it gets worse. (from:

A Damaged Tooth

If you notice a damaged tooth, such as a chip or crack, this may be a sign you need a root canal. When the tooth is damaged, the inside of the tooth is open to any bacteria that may be harmful. If these bacteria get inside the tooth and into the pulp, it can lead to infection and inflammation. 

Even without a visible injury, if you have fallen or hurt the tooth in any way, it may still damage the nerves which are inside the pulp of the tooth. The nerves can then become sensitive as they become inflamed, which will cause pain and may also require a root canal. 


If you notice pain around one tooth, or in a general area, it may well be a sign that you need a root canal. Often, this pain is persistent when the infection is bad. You may first start to notice pain now and again, but the pain will always come back. Sometimes you can tell which tooth the pain is coming from, but it may be a general pain in the jaw, face, or around the gums and teeth.

As tooth pain can be a sign of many other conditions, it is best to get advice from your dentist, who can determine the cause of the pain. No matter why you are having pain in your teeth, early treatment can stop infection and loss of teeth. 


If you notice a tooth is changing color, this may be a sign that the pulp is infected. Any damage to the tooth or the roots can damage the tissue inside the tooth. When the roots and tissue are damaged, the tooth can turn a grayish color. 

Discoloration is mainly noticeable when it happens in the front teeth, which is why it’s important to check your back teeth for discoloration every so often, or have regular dental checkups. Discoloration of the tooth can have other causes too, but you should always get a discolored tooth checked by a dentist. 


If you never had sensitive teeth before and you suddenly feel pain and sensitivity to hot or cold, this is a big sign that a root canal is needed. Tooth sensitivity occurs because the nerves and blood vessels in your teeth have become damaged or infected. You may feel pain or aching around the tooth after you have been out in the cold, drank a hot coffee, or even when using some toothpastes. 

A Loose Tooth

When a tooth becomes loose, this may be a sign that the tooth has become infected. When the infection spreads, it can cause some of the nerves in the tooth to become damaged or die. This can then soften the bones around the root of the tooth, meaning it becomes loose in the mouth. This is usually only the case if you feel a single tooth become loose. If you feel several teeth become loose, this is likely to be another cause but you must still visit your dentist so you do not lose any teeth.

Swollen or Painful Gums

Painful or swollen gums are a big telltale sign that something isn’t right with your tooth. If your gum is painful near a certain tooth, this is a common symptom that a root canal is needed. The pain and swelling may not be constant, but it may be tender when you brush your teeth or touch it. 

The swelling is caused by the infection in the pulp, which can also cause other signs such as pimples. If you notice a pimple, boil, or abscess, this is something that needs dental care straight away. This pimple may also contain pus, which may ooze out from the infection. You may notice this as an unpleasant taste and it can make your breath smell, even after brushing. 

There are plenty of signs that your tooth has become infected and is in need of root canal treatment. If you experience any of the signs above, you should speak to your dentist straight away. Leaving an infection in the tooth can lead to further teeth becoming infected, or may lead to other dental concerns. If left for too long, the root can die meaning the tooth will need to be removed and a root canal can no longer be performed.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.