Although fewer Americans fear root canals than in previous generations, anxiety about the procedure can still be significant enough for many with an infected or damaged tooth to put off visiting an endodontist to be evaluated. They may hope that their symptoms go away on their own, or that home remedies will help them avoid a root canal.
Unfortunately, if your tooth’s pulp has been compromised, it is unlikely putting off a root canal will improve the situation. In fact, the reverse is actually true: the sooner you visit your endodontist, the more quickly your symptoms and the risk to your oral health will subside.
The following are potential outcomes if you ignore symptoms that indicate a root canal is needed, which can include a pimple on your gumline, a discolored tooth, pain when chewing with the affected tooth, and prolonged sensitivity to hot and cold foods.
- Your tooth pain will continue and probably get worse. If infection has reached your tooth’s pulp, which contains nerve fibers, that awful ache will not disappear on its own.
- The infection in your tooth could spread and cause a health emergency. Untreated dental infections in the roots of your teeth can cause abscesses and also spread throughout the body, including into the brain in rare cases.
- The nerves in your tooth could die, making it harder to know what’s happening inside your tooth. Yes, the pain might go away if you put off treatment long enough, but what has likely happened is that the nerves inside the impacted tooth are dead, while the infection is still there, even if you cannot feel it.
- You could reach a point where extracting the tooth is your only option. Endodontists can frequently save natural teeth with a root canal, even ones with extensive damage or infection, but some teeth become too structurally fragile to save. Extraction will remove the immediate source of your problem, but it creates new problems. Other teeth can shift to fill the space in your mouth, and chewing and speaking can become more difficult without restorations such as bridges, dentures or implants.
“The good news for patients with symptoms indicating they may need a root canal is that the procedure is safer, easier and more effective than ever,” says Dr. Susan L. Wood, who practices with the Phoenix Endodontic Group. “Don’t hesitate to call our office for a consultation so we can treat your tooth as soon as possible.”