[Q&A] Infection in a root canal treated tooth

A reader asked:

“I got a root canal done in 1999. However, it has recently started hurting. :(. It’s a dull ache that comes and goes. I saw a dentist and she told me that I need a re-root canal as there is an infection. This was 4 months ago… if a root canal is done it cannot get infected right? I mean the tooth is already ‘dead’. How can it hurt?”

Ideally, a root canal treatment (RCT) done properly shouldn’t cause any problems. But here’s a list of things that could have gone wrong:

  • One of the root canals may have been left unfilled or the infection was not treated completely, before filling the tooth. These could definitely lead to an infection and infections can cause pain. You can confirm this by taking an X-ray of the tooth. If confirmed, a re-RCT would be required at the earliest to save the tooth.
  • You could also be having a problem in the area between the RC treated tooth and the adjacent tooth (the body won’t be able to differentiate between the two). This area has to be kept healthy by proper brushing and flossing. There could be food lodgement in the area between the teeth leading to the irritation of the gums or even a secondary cavity formation. So if that is the case, a good cleaning of the area (scaling) by the dentist (followed by a filling, if required) would provide relief.
  • If you haven’t got a cap (or crown) for the RC treated tooth, there are chances for the tooth to break when you bite on hard substances. This would call for a core build up of the tooth to increase its strength, followed by a cap.

I recommend you visit your dentist soon. This is something you cannot work out at home.

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2 Responses to “[Q&A] Infection in a root canal treated tooth”

  1. Joy Oommen November 18, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    I got RCT done (after spending three thousand bucks) as prescribed by the Dentist from ******, last year after proper X-ray & other medication in one month (with 4 visits..) However, contrary to the assurance of that Doctor, my teeth with RCT broken partially after six months and is hanging there (like hanging garden)till writing. When I get some mild ache, I use to apply home-made medicine like common Salt, black pepper, Clove mixture and apply on the affected area. And I feel better without any problem. Meanwhile, I ask U, pl. let me know should I remove that tooth or else advise, if possible….
    Posting as Joy Oommen (Not you?)

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  2. drjinu November 19, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    @Joy I’m assuming the problem was caused because a crown wasn’t placed (the third point in the post). I would recommend going to an endodontist (root canal treatment specialist) who can check if the remaining tooth structure can be saved. If so, he would insert a post into the tooth and then place a crown over it. A tooth can stand pressure as long as it is directed into the bone through the roots. What the post does is strengthen the tooth to withstand the pressure while passing it onto the root. A crown is required to make sure the pressure from biting is applied uniformly all over the tooth and not just on one point, which would lead to breakage of the tooth. It is not advisable to remove the tooth, as that would unleash another set of problems that need to be cared for.

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