Congratulations! You’ve survived a root canal procedure. Contrary to popular belief, root canal treatment isn’t nearly as painful as its reputation makes it out to be. But even though it’s a routine treatment, unfortunately, complications sometimes arise. If you have a poorly done root canal, you may need to have the procedure redone in order to save the tooth.
The Root Canal Procedure: What to Expect
The root that holds a tooth in place contains blood vessels and nerves called the pulp. Sometimes the pulp can become infected (usually because of an untreated cavity), causing pain and swelling. If the problem is too deep to be taken care of with a normal filling, the dentist will recommend a root canal procedure.
During the procedure, a dentist or endodontist (a root canal specialist) drills a hole into the tooth. He removes the nerves and blood vessels and cleans the infected tissue out of the pulp chamber. The empty space is filled in with a rubber-like material and capped off with a temporary crown. Finally, a custom-fitted crown that resembles the original tooth is sealed in place.
The dentist will take precautions to ensure that the infection is gone. They may apply an antibiotic to the empty root before they fill it. They may also prescribe antibiotics for the patient to take in the days after the procedure.
When a Root Canal Goes Wrong
In about 95% of cases, all goes well and the procedure solves the problem and the patient’s tooth is pain-free once again. With good oral care, a successful root canal can last a lifetime. But, there are some cases where the tooth doesn’t heal. Research has shown that there a few different factors that may result in a failed root canal procedure.
Missed infected areas. Sometimes the canals in teeth are curved or extremely small. In complex cases like these, the dentist might miss some areas of infection. After the root canal is done and the tooth is sealed up, the bacteria left behind will continue to grow and cause the infection to get worse. The fact that a root canal procedure removes blood vessels complicates matters. No blood supply means no chance for the body’s natural immune system to fight off infection.
New bacteria entering. Even if the dentist does a thorough job of cleaning the root, bacteria may still get in. Delays in sealing the tooth can give saliva a chance to contaminate the tooth. Bacteria can also slip past an ill-fitting temporary crown.
Crowns wearing down. Patients who have a successful root canal procedure may still develop problems later on. Over time, normal wear and tear from biting and chewing, or a habit like teeth grinding can take a toll. Dental crowns can crack or the inner seal used to fill the canal might start to erode. In these scenarios, or if the tooth suffers a trauma, bacteria can be reintroduced into the root canal.
What Are the Signs of a Poorly Done Root Canal?
A patient can expect to experience some discomfort after a root canal. The pain should go away within a few days and is usually manageable with over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If the pain is severe or lasts several days, you might have a poorly done root canal.
Swelling might occur inside the mouth or in the face. In severe cases, there may be discharge coming from the area of the infected tooth. This could indicate an abscess.
Symptoms of a failed or poorly done root canal might not happen right away. If the reinfection develops gradually, or if it is due to a new situation like a cracked crown, it could be months or even years before a patient notices that anything is wrong.
Pain, swelling, and especially discharge after a root canal procedure should be addressed as soon as possible. An appointment with a dentist or endodontist should be made right away before the infection has a chance to spread further.
Options for Treating a Poorly Done Root Canal
There are two basic options for a failed root canal. The most drastic is extraction. If the tooth is too badly damaged, a dentist may recommend removal to stop the infection from spreading. After pulling the tooth, options such as an implant, bridge, or dentures can be considered.
Dentists and endodontists will always save teeth if they can. After a poorly done root canal, this usually means retreatment, in other words, doing the procedure over. Retreatment is the most common and the most successful remedy to a failed root canal.
Basic retreatment involves taking the crown off the tooth, removing the material used to fill in the root. Then, the dentist or endodontist will clean the pulp chamber out again, refill, and recap the tooth with a new crown. Some of the latest endodontic treatments use new technology such as ultrasonic waves to clean and remove infected tissue. Chances are that retreatment of a root canal done just a few years ago will utilize newer, more effective methods.
In some cases, endodontic surgery may be the best option if the infection can’t be reached through normal retreatment. An apicoectomy, or root-end surgery, involves an incision at the tip of the root. This allows the canal to be cleaned and filled from both ends.
Don’t Ignore a Poorly Done Root Canal
Like other dental issues such as having cavities filled, the longer you wait to fix a poorly done root canal, the more painful and expensive it will be. Untreated infections can spread to other teeth and the gums. In severe cases, bacteria can cause serious sinus infections or even bone loss in the jaw.
If you suspect that your root canal has failed, it is best to seek the help of a dentist or endodontist immediately. Use our online search tool to find someone near you.