Why Old Root Canal Infection Symptoms Return and What to Do Next

Senior Man Playing Golf after Dental Procedure

According to a study in the European Journal of Dentistry, the overall success rate of endodontic treatment, such as a root canal, ranges between 86% to 98%. While the vast majority of treatments go smoothly, these statistics indicate that a small percentage of patients who receive an endodontic treatment develop further problems months or years later when old root canal infection symptoms return. Read on to learn why a previously treated tooth might become problematic, what symptoms you may experience and how an endodontist can help you through endodontic retreatment.

Why You May Need Retreatment After a Root Canal

Even when every step of the procedure goes smoothly, a tooth that is treated with a root canal may experience prolonged sensitivity or reinfection. According to the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), certain circumstances may prevent a tooth treated with a root canal from healing properly:

  • If the dental professional misses tiny, hidden canals or curved canals during the first treatment, the bacteria inside them may not be entirely removed and can cause infection.
  • Immediately after the root canal, the dental professional often places a temporary filling to provide a short-term seal for the root canal before placing the permanent restoration (such as a crown or filling). If there is a delay in placing the permanent restoration, there is a greater chance that the root canal can get reinfected.
  • If bacteria in the saliva get under the filling material before the filling is placed, the canal can become reinfected.
  • If the patient doesn't maintain proper oral hygiene, new cavities can form on the same tooth that already received a root canal.
  • A filling or crown placed on the tooth that received the root canal can crack, loosen or break, allowing a new infection to start.

Symptoms of Lingering Endodontic Problems

When any of the previous circumstances occurs with your root canal tooth, you may experience a range of symptoms. Here are some signs that indicate it may be time to make an appointment with your dental professional, according to the AAE:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold, or lingering pain after consuming hot or cold food
  • Sharp pain when biting down or when tapping the teeth together
  • Constant pain and pressure
  • Swelling of the gums, with or without the presence of a pimple-like bump near the tooth on the gums
  • A dull ache experienced consistently in the same area

These symptoms indicate there may be an issue with the pulp of the tooth, which is the interior portion of the tooth treated by a root canal procedure.

How a Dental Professional Can Help

Your general dentist or endodontist will usually take X-rays to assess the condition of the tooth in question. The AAE notes that endodontists are specialized dental professionals who have received two to three additional years of education to diagnose and treat infections inside the tooth.

When you experience issues with a previously treated tooth, it may be necessary for an endodontist to reopen the tooth, explains the AAE. This process, called endodontic retreatment, allows the dentist to remove the original root canal filling material and reclean and reseal the canals. Following this procedure, they will place a temporary filling and you will receive your permanent restoration at a later appointment.

If you have a severe toothache or other old root canal infection symptoms, don't hesitate to book an appointment with your dentist. When these conditions are addressed early, your dental professional can successfully retreat teeth and maintain your smile.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for Care After a ROOT CANAL

A treated and restored tooth can last a lifetime with proper care. Root canals have a high success rate. Here are a few ways to take care of your teeth after a root canal:

  • Practice good oral hygiene – brush teeth twice a day, and floss at least once. Taking care of your teeth can help prevent future problems.

  • Visit the dentist regularly – cleanings and examinations by dentists and hygienists.

  • Avoid chewing on hard foods – chewing on hard foods such as ice can cause teeth to break, and can harm root canals.