When most patients hear the phrase ‘root canal’, they picture emergency root canals, procedures having to be done suddenly, without warning. While emergency root canals are performed, there are many early warning signs that you may need a visit with an endodontist – that’s a dentist who specializes in the inside of the tooth, rather than the outside tooth surface. If you are experiencing any of these issues, ask your dentist if it’s time to see an endodontist that s/he recommends.

1. Spontaneous pain

The operative term here is “’spontaneous”: you have a tooth that just starts to cause you significant pain for no other attributable cause, completely out of the blue.

This is a significant sign, because root canals are required when a tooth has decayed to a point that the nerve inside the affected tooth is exposed. Even a very small exposure can hurt terribly. The pain can range in severity, and it can also change in sensation as you change positions, like sitting, bending over, etc. If you have spontaneous, significant tooth pain, call your dentist or endodontist immediately.

2. “Pimples” on your gums

Your gums are like flesh, but it is not normal to have a pimple on your gum. If you see what appears to be a pus-filled “boil” on your gum, you may be experiencing a form of very localized swelling indicating a tooth infection.

Sometimes, such pimples will decrease in size and seem to resolve themselves, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. Often, the growth will grow again because the infection has not yet been treated. Do NOT attempt to drain such a growth. Instead, notify your dentist or endodontist and let them assess the condition.

3. A darkened tooth

If one of your teeth becomes darker in color than the rest, this can be a sign of infection and/or nerve damage within the tooth. Typically, the affected tooth will take on a gray cast. This is always a symptom that requires a dentist or endodontist’s examination.

4. Gum discomfort

An infected tooth will typically cause some sort of discomfort in the gum tissue surrounding it. However, the discomfort can take many forms. In some patients, it feels like a relatively painless bump or knot in the gums. In others, the swelling can become so pronounced that it is noticeable on the outside of the face.

Patients who have previously been diagnosed with gum disease may mistakenly assume that this swelling is a part of the gingivitis. However, gum disease occurs in the tissue immediately around the tooth. The swelling that indicates an infection of the tooth, originates away from the gum immediately around the visible tooth.

5. Painful chewing

This is another symptom which can be mistaken for something less severe. When patients feel minor discomfort eating something sugary, that can be a sign of a cavity. Painful chewing or painful closing without food are good reasons to call your dentist immediately.