The innermost layer of your tooth is called the pulp. This layer is filled with blood vessels and nerves, and is referred to as the “living” portion of your tooth. When bacteria get access to this area, usually from cavities or a traumatic injury, it becomes inflamed and can swell up. This inflammation causes pressure which your body interprets as pain inside the infected tooth.
Sometimes the tooth in question requires a root canal. But not always. When you visit your dentist, there are a variety of tests he will do to figure out what is causing your toothache, which will help him know which treatment is necessary.
First, an x-ray will be taken. Sometimes the cause for a toothache is visible on a radiograph, and sometimes it is not. If it is visible, you will probably be needing a root canal.
Your dentist will also tap on your tooth with the handle end of his mirror. Based on whether or not this causes pain or irritation will tell your dentist if the problem involves tiny ligaments called periodontal ligaments. These are ligaments on the outside of your tooth that hold the roots to the inside edge of your gums near the bone. Pain with the tapping implies that these ligaments are involved or damaged, and again that you will probably be needing a root canal.
The dentist will also more than likely place his finger on your gums above the tooth. A sensitivity or a bump may imply that the infection has spread to your bone. If it is very sensitive to the touch, you will probably be needing a root canal.
Another important test is the cold test. The dentist will apply a cold spray on a little piece of cotton and place it on your tooth. If you experience no pain, the pulp is dead and you will need a root canal. If you experience pain, but it goes away quickly, there is damage that may be reversible. If you experience pain that lingers for more than a few seconds after the cold stimulus is removed, you will probably be needing a root canal.
In order to treat your tooth, your dentist should be able to alter your symptoms or pain. This may mean removing the pain momentarily, and it may mean making the pain more intense for a brief moment. By altering your symptoms, he knows he has found the right tooth, and he knows what needs to be done to fix the problem.
While you can’t guarantee that you’ll never have this condition, proper oral care certainly helps. Brush and floss every day, and hopefully you won’t ever have to deal with a toothache! If you are using a manual brush, you might consider switching to an electric toothbrush, for example, Sonicare or Oral B. While manual brushes can get the job done, electric do an incredible job of keeping your teeth clean and healthy! Personally, I use a manual in the morning, and an electric (Oral B) at night.
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