If you've just had a root canal and are experiencing what feels like excessive pain, you might be worried that something has gone wrong during the treatment and unsure whether there's a problem or you need additional treatment. Since infected dental pulp is removed during a root canal, continued infection in the tooth is rare, but it may occur. Read on to learn how infection develops and the treatments your dentist may recommend.
What Is Tooth Pulp?
Your tooth is made of a few different layers. Here are four very important ones:
- Enamel. The hard layer visible on the outside of your teeth.
- Dentin. The layer of tissue underneath the enamel.
- Tooth pulp. The pulp houses the root canal, nerves and blood vessels.
- Cementum. Is the surface layer of the tooth root that is connected to the tooth by periodontal ligament fibers which attaches to the bone.
Your tooth pulp (or dental pulp) is a soft tissue that maintains blood flow and helps to keep your tooth alive. Because this tissue is full of nerves and surrounds the root, it can be vulnerable to infection if the first two protective layers, the enamel and dentin, are compromised by a cavity, crack in the tooth or trauma.
How Infection Occurs
Inflammation in your tooth's pulp is called pulpitis, which can lead to infection and a possible abscess in your tooth, says the American Association of Endodontists (AAE). If the pulp is infected by bacteria, the area can become inflamed. If left untreated, infection can then set in, killing the pulp.
Once your pulp is infected, a root canal is typically recommended to save your tooth. Depending on the severity of the infection, your dentist may refer you to an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in soft tissue and tooth pulp. During a root canal treatment, your dentist will remove the pulp, clean the root canal and seal the area from infection.
Per the AAE, it's important to understand that root canals don't cause pain and the treatment should relieve pain from tooth pulp infection. Also, root canals are a safe and prudent course of action to save your tooth once your tooth's pulp dies.
A root canal is meant to clean the infected pulp area to ultimately stop infection from occurring again. Redness, soreness and some tenderness are normal post-treatment. However, severe pain isn't. So if you're continuing to experience pain or pressure post-treatment, it's important to make an appointment with your dentist right away.
Only about 3 to 6 percent of patients experience sustained high levels of pain even after the pulp is removed, calculates the Northwest Dentistry Journal. Your endodontist may prescribe analgesics to help ease the pain, first. But it's also important that you seek help early on as some treatments work better if carried out right away
If pain persists, inflamed tissue after a root canal treatment may be an underlying cause. In this case, your dentist may recommend an apioectomy, a more involved treatment where additional inflamed tissue is removed, says the AAE. But if the area continues to be painful and your endodontist does not believe the tooth can be saved, extraction and placement of a dental implant may be the next steps.
Practice Daily Preventative Care
When you consider the pain and the cost of more intensive treatments, you're likely to make a more firm commitment to your oral health and care. Brush with a toothpaste like Colgate Cavity Protection toothpaste, which strengthens teeth with active fluoride and fights cavities.