woman reading about root canal infections

Can Root Canal Infections Spread?

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If your dentist has told you that you need a root canal to treat a tooth infection, it can be scary. You may be worried about what caused the infection, and you may also be wondering if root canal infections spread. Understanding the process of root canal infection and what the treatment will entail can arm you with the knowledge you need to get your dental health back on track and prevent further issues later in life.

Why Do People Need Root Canals?

You might need root canal treatment if an infection develops in the nerve and blood chamber within the core of your tooth. This portion of the tooth is called the dental pulp. According to the American Dental Association, there are times when this space can get infected from a deep cavity (tooth decay), a cracked tooth or as a result of periodontal disease. When bacteria infect the area, the dental pulp may die, causing pus to build up at the tip of the tooth root. This infection is called a periapical abscess.

If your dentist confirms that the abscess is a result of dental decay or a cracked tooth, they will often recommend a root canal treatment as the best course of action. This procedure removes the bacteria from within the tooth and seals it to stop the infection.

Know that your dental professional will do everything in their power to treat the problem and save the tooth rather than extract it. The American Association of Endodontists (AAE) reports that more than 15 million root canals are completed in the U.S. annually to preserve natural teeth by cleaning out the infection and stabilizing the treated tooth with the proper filling materials.

Dental Abscess Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, a dental abscess may include one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Throbbing or aching
  • Sensitivity
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • A bad taste or smell in the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

If you experience any of these symptoms of dental infection, see your dentist as soon as possible for an evaluation.

Can Root Canal Infections Spread?

If a patient with dental abscess does not seek treatment promptly, the Mayo Clinic warns that the infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as the jaw and surrounding tissues. Unfortunately, a dental abscess will not go away on its own, and not addressing it can allow the infection to continue spreading. The Mayo Clinic also states that patients with weakened immune systems are at additional risk for the spread of infection, as these individuals cannot fight off the spread of germs as well as those with healthy immune systems.

Luckily, getting root canal treatment can help prevent the spread of infection. According to the AAE, your dental professional will perform these steps during your procedure:

  • Examine the affected area
  • Numb the area
  • Cover the tooth area with a barrier dam to protect the mouth
  • Drill through the enamel and dentin layers of the tooth to the space where the blood and nerve supply can be accessed
  • Clean the area where the blood and nerve supply has died or become infected
  • Dry and fill the empty space where the blood and nerves once lived
  • Place a temporary filling to allow for healing
  • Restore the tooth with a permanent crown, typically at a later visit

Preventing Dental Infections

Routine dental care visits to a dental professional and effective daily oral care at home are your best defenses against oral infection. If you develop any symptoms of a dental abscess, or if your dentist detects an infection, prompt treatment will decrease the chances of the infection spreading and will help you maintain a healthy smile.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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