Root Canal Infection Symptoms

the signs to look out for!

November 15, 2023 Written By: Joyce Kahng, DDS

Root canals, despite their notorious reputation, are common dental procedures that can save your natural teeth and prevent the need for dental implants or bridges. However, like any medical procedure, they’re not entirely without risk. One such risk is the possibility of infection after the procedure.

Recognizing the symptoms of a root canal infection promptly can make a significant difference in treatment outcomes, preventing complications and ensuring the health of your teeth. Below, we’ll delve deep into understanding the procedure, its associated infections, and (most importantly) the signs to look out for.

Understanding What Root Infections and Root Canals Are

A root canal, or endodontic treatment, is a critical dental procedure designed to save and repair a tooth that is severely decayed or infected. In this process, the damaged or infected pulp (innermost soft core) of the tooth is removed, and the inside of the tooth is meticulously cleaned, disinfected, and subsequently sealed, preventing the need for tooth extraction, dental implants, or bridges.

Typically, this procedure is brought on by inflammation or infection of the pulp due to deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, or a crack or chip in the tooth. The main objective for root canal treatment is preserving the natural tooth and maintaining its functionality.

In some instances, despite diligent efforts by dental professionals, there’s a risk that some bacteria may linger inside the tooth after the procedure—potentially leading to an infection. Infections can also occur if the tooth is improperly sealed after the procedure or if the seal breaks down over time, allowing bacteria to infiltrate the inner chambers of the tooth. Additionally, initial injuries or infections can recur, causing complications and leading to the need for further intervention. That’s why adhering to post-procedure aftercare instructions and maintaining vigilance for signs of infection are so important when it comes to reducing risks associated with root canal treatments.

Understanding the nature and purpose of root canals, the potential risks, and the importance of post-procedure care are fundamental in ensuring the longevity and health of the treated tooth. Proper knowledge about this treatment aids in alleviating patient fears and misconceptions about this commonly performed dental procedure. Moreover, it empowers patients to actively participate in post-procedure care and monitor their recovery process, allowing for early detection and intervention should complications arise.

When adequately performed and cared for, a root canal can serve as a long-term solution for preserving a natural tooth and preventing further decay and damage. However, continuous attention to oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups are crucial to monitor the health of the treated tooth and promptly address any issues that may arise, ensuring a healthy and resilient smile.

Identifying the Symptoms of Infection

If you’ve had a root canal, it’s vital to be aware of symptoms that might hint at an infection. Being able to identify these early can lead to quicker treatment and potentially save your tooth. Here’s what you should watch out for:


After a root canal, it’s common to feel some discomfort due to the procedure. However, if the pain continues or gets worse, it could be a sign of an infection. Symptoms like throbbing pain or extreme sensitivity to temperature or pressure might mean there’s an issue with the surrounding tissues. If you experience this, it’s important to seek medical attention right away.

Swelling and Tenderness

While a certain degree of swelling is to be expected immediately after the procedure due to the body’s natural inflammatory response, any swelling in your gums, face, or neck that persists or appears several days post-treatment should be a cause for concern. It is essential to monitor the treated area for any signs of abnormal swelling or tenderness to the touch, as these can be indicative of an underlying infection, requiring prompt intervention to prevent the spread of bacteria to adjacent tissues and structures.


The presence of pus or any other type of discharge around the treated tooth unequivocally signifies an infection. This discharge is often accompanied by an unpleasant taste or ripe odor in your mouth, which is caused by the accumulation of pus and the ongoing bacterial activity within the infected area. It’s essential not to overlook such experiences and to inform a dental professional right away to prevent additional issues and potential broader health impacts.

Bad Taste or Odor

A consistent bad taste or unpleasant smell, even without visible discharge, should be taken seriously. These might indicate residual bacteria or potential infection in the treated area, suggesting that the body might be having difficulty fighting off harmful microbes. It’s essential to consult promptly with a dentist or endodontist for a comprehensive assessment. This will help identify the root cause and take the necessary steps to safeguard the treated tooth and overall dental health.

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, especially if they persist or worsen over time, it’s essential to contact your dentist or endodontist immediately. They can assess the situation, determine if an infection is present, and decide on the appropriate course of action to treat it.

Importance of Prompt Intervention

Recognizing symptoms is the first step, but acting on them is equally crucial. A delay in addressing an infected root canal can lead to the spread of the infection, potentially causing more serious health issues (including systemic infections). Quick intervention is vital to resolving the infection and preserving the tooth’s integrity.

When confronted with symptoms indicative of infection, seeking professional advice from a dentist or an endodontist is imperative. They can confirm the presence of an infection through examinations and possibly X-rays and can recommend appropriate treatments. Treatments may include antibiotics to combat the infection, or in more severe cases, additional dental procedures may be required to resolve the issue. Early intervention can help avoid more extensive, and potentially more painful and expensive, treatments down the line.

Watch Out for the Symptoms

Understanding the signs of root canal infection and acting swiftly with professional help is vital for optimal oral health. Be vigilant and look for symptoms like ongoing pain, swelling, discharge, or unusual changes after the procedure. Regular dental visits and maintaining good oral hygiene can significantly reduce the risk of complications.

Keep an eye out after your root canal and reach out to your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any issues. You’ll ensure the health and well-being of your tooth and your overall oral health. Remember, early intervention can prevent more significant issues.

Smile Smarter,
Dr. Joyce

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