The term “root canal” can strike fear into the hearts of anyone, but most people aren’t even sure what a root canal really is. Root canals are restorative procedures that are used when the nerve inside of a tooth has been damaged or has become infected. Root canals actually save teeth that would otherwise have to be extracted, and prevent you from experiencing any further pain or complications.
Root canal procedures tend to be more common in adults, but they can be performed on children as well. How do you know if your child may need a root canal? Here are some of the signs your child needs a root canal:
Symptoms You or Your Child May Notice
There are several symptoms that may indicate your child needs a root canal. Perhaps the most obvious indication that something is wrong is pain. Root canal pain can range from sharp and intense to a dull ache. The pain may be throbbing or may change when your child changes postures. Your child might experience pain spontaneously or only in response to some sort of stimulus. Take notice if your child complains that they’re experiencing sensitivity to hot or cold foods. Essentially, there are many different kinds of tooth pain that are signs your child needs a root canal. However, tooth pain can also be indicative of many other dental issues, so pain alone isn’t enough to determine the problem.
Signs of infection such as gum tenderness and swelling may also be present, but are not always. Swelling can range from slight to very noticeable, and in extreme cases, it can extend to your child’s face or neck. The swelling will often occur at the site of the issue, which in the case of a root canal, is at the base of the infected tooth. Some children may not experience swelling, but you may notice a pimple-like sac of pus in their mouth. If the pus finds a way to drain itself, your child may experience a bad taste in their mouth.
Other signs that your child needs a root canal include general malaise, fever, and tender/swollen lymph nodes.
Every root canal case is different, and your child may not experience every single symptom in this list. In fact, they may not experience many symptoms at all. That’s why it’s important to report anything unusual to your child’s dentists since only they will be able to determine if your child needs a root canal. X-rays can determine if your child needs a root canal long before the problem becomes severe enough for your child to start experiencing symptoms.
Symptoms Your Dentist May Notice
Making sure that your child visits the dentist every 6 months is important for many reasons. Regular trips to the dentist can help keep teeth healthy, but dentists are also trained to spot problems early on. There are several signs your child needs a root canal that may not be obvious to the untrained eye, including:
- dark tooth color
- signs of drainage from infection
- soft tissue changes
Your child’s dentist will be able to spot this issues during their biannual checkups. If the dentist believes that your child may need a root canal, they will likely do further testing.
Tests That Can Determine If Your Child Needs a Root Canal
If there are signs your child needs a root canal, their dentist will order additional testing to determine how to proceed.
The first test that is performed is usually percussion testing, where the dentist simply taps on the tooth with the butt end of a dental tool. Tapping infected teeth will result in a pain response, whereas tapping healthy teeth won’t cause anything.
One of the most common ways to see if there are signs your child needs a root canal is by taking x-rays of the teeth. This painless procedure will show the dentist any underlying infections. The classic sign that indicates the need for a root canal is called a radiolucency, which is a dark spot that centers around the root of the infected tooth. Radiolucencies usually indicate that changes have occurred to the bone in that area in response to an infection that’s inside of and leaking out of the tooth’s root.
Your child’s dentist may also use thermal testing, where the teeth are exposed to hot and cold temperatures. The way teeth react can give the dentist information about the health of a tooth’s nerve tissue. Teeth that need root canals often respond painfully to both extreme heat and cold, though some will respond painfully to heat and experience pain relief with cold. The most important determining factor of thermal testing is the duration of the response. Healthy teeth will stop hurting almost immediately after the stimulus is removed, but infected teeth will have pain that lingers 30 seconds or more.
Another test that may be used is called electric pulp test. Your child’s dentist hold an electric pulp tester against the suspected tooth, and the tester will pass a variable electric current through the tooth. Healthy nerves will feel a mild tingling sensation, but dead nerves (like those in infected teeth) will feel no sensation.
If left untreated, infections can lead to extreme pain, dental abscesses, and even serious, potentially life-threatening infections. The good news is that identifying and treating decay and damage in a timely manner will prevent any of these adverse effects from occurring to your child. If you detect any signs your child needs a root canal, schedule a dentist appointment as soon as you can. Your dentist will work with you and your child to determine what’s wrong with the tooth in question and will figure out the best treatment plan. Contact Children’s Dentistry to make your child’s appointment today.