Root canals have a bad reputation as one of the most dreaded dental procedures. However, root canal therapy is a very effective treatment for teeth with infected or inflamed pulp.

Aside from the obvious tooth pain and tooth decay, an infected tooth can lead to serious oral health problems if left untreated. Having a root canal performed can save your tooth while eliminating the dangerous bacteria and pus that can accumulate in a dental abscess. In addition, the procedure will most often provide relief from the intense discomfort and pain, and it has a high success rate.

While it is rare, the root canal can sometimes become infected again after treatment. In addition, bacteria may grow in the space because a root canal removes the dead nerve from the tooth, which can lead to infection.

This article will discuss the symptoms of an infection after a root canal. If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact us at Crossroads Dental Arts immediately.

What is a root canal treatment?

Root canal therapy treats a badly decayed or infected tooth by removing the soft tissue inside the tooth known as the pulp. The nerves and blood vessels in your tooth are located in the pulp. Damaged or infected pulp can be a debilitating oral condition leading to severe pain.

A fully developed tooth can function and survive without the pulp. Your dentist will give you local anesthesia during a root canal treatment and then drill through the tooth’s hard tissue to access the pulp chamber. Then they will remove the inflamed or infected pulp from the affected tooth and disinfect the canals extending through the tooth root.

Your dentist then will pack the open root canals with a permanent filling material called gutta-percha. If accessing pulp in the root canal requires a large opening to be drilled in the tooth, you will probably need to return to have a dental crown placed to protect your tooth.

Common Signs of Infection After a Root Canal Treatment

Root canal infections have several warning signs that the root canal treatment did not clear the infection. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact our dental office as soon as possible.

Severe Tooth Pain

If the pain worsens following treatment or doesn’t improve within about a week of the root canal procedure, this could be a sign of infection.

Extreme Tooth Sensitivity

If your tooth becomes noticeably more sensitive to food or liquids that are hot or cold, you should alert your dentist.

Excessive Swelling or Tenderness

If the area around your procedure shows excessive swelling or is very tender beyond mild discomfort, you should ask your dentist to assess your condition.

Chronic Bad Breath or Bad Taste in the Mouth

Sometimes, an infection can lead to an unpleasant odor in your mouth and bad breath. Some patients also notice a bitter taste.

A Pimple Appears on your Gums

A recurring pimple on the gums can sometimes appear when a dental abscess forms. It can sometimes be tempting to intentionally rupture the lump to release pus and relieve pain and pressure, but it’s best to leave it alone. Otherwise, the infection can spread.

Can I take preventive steps to protect my root canal from infection?

Some preventative measures to avoid infected root canals include:

  • Follow your dentist’s instructions closely
  • Brush and floss your teeth regularly
  • Avoid biting on complex objects
  • Get regular dental checkups and cleanings

How quickly does an infection appear after a root canal?

Unfortunately, there is no specific time frame that root canal infection may occur. Sometimes infection occurs within a few days, and sometimes root canal infection can happen months later. However, most infections occur within the first two weeks after the procedure.

There are some cases where a tooth that has already had root canal treatment becomes reinfected years after the original procedure. This usually means that the patient has suffered additional tooth decay into the inner layer and left an opening where harmful bacteria invade the previously sealed root of the tooth. Regular cleanings and checkups can help prevent those instances of root canal infection.

Why would an infection return after a root canal?

Root canal infection can return for several reasons.

Sometimes the shape of the tooth and its roots are difficult to navigate and disinfect. Even the most highly experienced root canal specialist can have difficulty reaching every corner of the inside of your tooth to remove the bacteria. In addition, if some bacteria is left behind, it can lead to additional root canal infection.

In other cases, bacteria may have entered the opening during the procedure. For example, a root canal is always completed with sterile tools in a clean environment, but sometimes saliva can accidentally contact the open site and transfer bacteria.

Unusual delays in having the crown placed can also increase the risk of another infection. For example, if you had a temporary filling that became damaged before your crown was placed, there could have been an opening for germs to cause infection. 

And finally, sometimes the infected area turns out to be worse than initially understood by your dentist. Or perhaps the infection was resistant to the antibiotics used. Regardless, sometimes the infection simply survives the initial treatment.

Can a root canal infection heal on its own?

No. Dental infection does not heal without medical intervention.

If a root canal infection or abscess is left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body or enter your bloodstream. If the infection spreads, it can cause further complications that could even turn deadly.

Please do not ignore the warning signs of infection in your teeth, and contact our dental office as soon as you feel concerned. We will schedule an appointment with one of our highly experienced dentists immediately to evaluate your condition and have the problem treated. It is always better to be safe and ease your concerns than risk further complications.

How is a root canal infection treated?

Usually, a course of antibiotics is sufficient to treat the infection. However, it can sometimes be necessary to retreat the tooth, and there are options for surgery if the infection is persistent.

There are multiple options for treatment available if you do have a return infection, but it is not a common outcome of the procedure. We know it can sound scary when discussing the risks of complications, but you can rest easy knowing that continued complications from a root canal are rare, and most procedures are successful and long-lasting.

Contact us

If you think you may need a root canal or have concerns following a recent procedure, please get in touch with our dentist immediately. At Crossroads Dental Arts, your oral health is the priority for Dr. Friend and Dr. Rief, so we are happy to answer any questions or evaluate your condition.