Signs of Infection After Root Canal

Root Canal

Root canals are a safe and common procedure for those who need the inner layer of their tooth repaired. It is incredibly rare for complications to occur after the treatment, but there is still a small chance of infection taking root.

It is important to be aware of the warning signs of infection after a root canal. Early detection can prevent the infection from spreading and leading to further complications. By delving into the causes of an oral infection after root canal treatment, you can know what common signs to keep an eye out for.

What is a Root Canal?

A root canal, also known as endodontic treatment, focuses on repairing any internal damage your tooth has sustained. This involves drilling a hole into the tooth to remove the dental pulp attached to the tooth’s root through nerves and connective tissues.

The gap left is then filled up and sealed to prevent infection. If necessary, a crown may be placed on the top of the tooth to protect it further. 

Is it Normal to Feel Pain After a Root Canal?

It is not uncommon to have a few days of minor pain, inflammation or discomfort after root canal treatment. The nerves surrounding the affected tooth are likely swollen or inflamed, which may cause discomfort, especially when eating. Root canal therapy also involves the dentist using sharp dental instruments close to your gums, which may cause some damage to nearby tissue.

Your dentist will often recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever for those days of discomfort, but the pain should remain minimal. If you are experiencing severe pain 1-2 weeks after treatment, however, this is not normal by any means and often means that infection has settled in.

What is a Root Canal Infection?

Root canals are often necessary after tooth decay, poorly situated fillings, or a tooth has been significantly damaged. These conditions allow bacteria in the mouth to reach the vulnerable pulp at a tooth’s centre, creating an infection. An incorrect root canal may not have removed all of this bacteria, allowing for reinfection.

How Long After Root Canal Treatment Can Infection Occur?

If the root canal treatment does not extract all of the infection in the first place, you may show signs of infection almost immediately after the procedure. Otherwise, if you are experiencing severe pain 1-2 weeks after treatment, it is likely a mishap occurred during the procedure.

What Causes Root Canal Infection?

While treatment on a tooth is meant to remove the infection, there is a small chance it can return. 

This may be due to:

  • A delay in the placement of a tooth’s crown or its permanent restoration, allowing harmful bacteria back in.
  • Previous tooth pain and issues causing bacteria to linger.
  • Cracked tooth roots, which cannot be treated by a root canal, allowing for infection to set in.
  • Your tooth’s canals are not fully cleaned or disinfected, which may be due to their narrowness or curvedness. The tooth may also have housed bacteria in extra accessory canals.
  • Areas of infection are unfound due to your root canals having a complicated shape.
  • An inadequate seal or oversized filling granting bacteria access to the pulp once more.

Can the Infection Spread to Other Teeth or the Gums?

Unfortunately, infection after a root canal treatment can spread to other parts of the mouth through the tooth’s surrounding tissue. This includes other teeth, but also your gums, cheeks and face.

Leaving the infection untreated causes this spread, so you must seek treatment as soon as you notice anything. Otherwise, in extreme cases, you may find the tooth infection spreading into the jaw, face, and even the bloodstream.

Signs of a Root Canal Infection

After going through a root canal procedure, it is important that you keep an eye out for any signs of an infection left untreated. Preventing the spread of a potential infection is important not only for your tooth’s health but also for your overall well-being. If caught quickly, the infection can be managed without any further problems. 

Despite it being a rare occurrence after initial treatment, a patient may start showing signs of a root canal infection. Some common signs to help you identify an infection after a root canal procedure are:

  1. Persistent pain and increased tooth sensitivity
  2. The formation of an abscess on or in front of the root tip
  3. Tooth discolouration 
  4. Chronic bad breath 
  5. An increasing feeling of fatigue 
  6. Sudden fever

Below, we provide more information on how you can identify these signs and when to consider seeking medical attention. 

1. Pain

A small amount of pain is common after having your root canal treated. However, tooth pain will spike significantly if reinfected, particularly when biting down or consuming something cold.

Infection pain is persistent, spreading from the root tip to your gum and jaw. If your pain is not alleviated 3 days after the procedure, you may need to see a dentist again.

2. Abscess

An abscess on the gums near the affected tooth indicates infected tissue. It is not uncommon for the abscess to release pus or fluid, although it may not necessarily be painful. If you had an abscess before your root canal and it failed to disappear after 7-10 days, the infection has not been fully removed.

3. Tooth Discolouration

A sign that bad bacteria has reached a tooth’s pulp is the darkening of your enamel. The tissues within the root canal die when an infection spreads, changing the tooth to a dark or yellowed brown. A tooth darkening after treatment indicates that the tissue within continues to die and that the canal needs to be cleansed appropriately.

4. Chronic Bad Breath

While sometimes more difficult to notice, chronic bad breath is a common sign of an oral infection. If cleaning your teeth thoroughly does not remove the odour, it is likely because of a failed root canal. You may also notice a bitter taste in the mouth to accompany this smell.

5. Fatigue 

You may feel slightly tired after a dental procedure, but persistent exhaustion a week afterwards means something has gone wrong. An increase in exhaustion is often a sign of an oral infection transferring into your blood. Blood vessels can transport pathogens to the rest of your body and organs, so an infection in the mouth can cause other problems, such as exhaustion.

6. Fever

A fever indicates your immune system is trying to kill bad bacteria. If you notice a high body temperature and other indications of soreness or swelling in the mouth, it may be an issue with your root canals.

How to Treat Root Canal Infection

Once you have recognised the symptoms of an infected root canal, the next step is getting treatment. Most dentists offer endodontic treatment, and they will likely suggest a root canal retreatment for your re-infected tooth.

The procedure works very similarly to your first root canal, involving the dentist to:

  1. Utilise an x-ray to identify any signs of dead or infected tissue by the root canal.
  2. Numb the area with local anaesthesia.
  3. Protect your mouth and gums by placing a protective barrier around the tooth.
  4. Drill into the tooth to get to the dental pulp and canal area.
  5. Clean out the dead or infected tissue, removing any old root filler material or medicine that may have been trapped within the root.
  6. Dry the area, then fill it with gutta-percha, a latex-based polymer filler.
  7. Protect the tooth with filling material like composite or amalgam. Then leave to heal.
  8. Some cases may require the outer enamel to be carved away, allowing a permanent crown to be placed over the tooth to prevent further infections.

When to See a Dentist?

If you are showing symptoms of an infection setting in after your root canal treatment, it is important to see a dentist immediately. The more time you leave an affected tooth, the more time the infection has to spread.

The complications that arise from a spreading root canal infection can be dire if left untreated. The bacteria can spread beneath the affected canal and begin to erode the surrounding jawbone. An affected tooth may also need to be extracted if the bone loss is advanced, affecting your eating capabilities or appearance.

While treatment options are available for some of these complications, including dental implants, significant bone loss is irreversible. An implant is not viable after this, and you may notice your livelihood being affected in the future.

Tips for Preventing Root Canal Infection

If you are worried about infection after your root canal procedure, there are various options to reduce the risk. Namely, by taking care of your teeth appropriately through:

  • Brushing and flossing at least twice a day.
  • Use antiseptic mouthwash for the first few days after the procedure, and then continue as much as you feel like after that.
  • Using over-the-counter pain medication for soreness and swelling after treatment.
  • Returning to the dentist for the tooth’s crown or a permanent restoration as soon as possible.

It is always best to book a dental clean at least twice a year for your oral health and to check for signs of infection. You can book an appointment with Putney Dental Care online or by phone at (02) 9808 2588.

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