How Do I Know If My Tooth Nerve Is Inflamed/Infected?
The nerve of the tooth may be inflamed/infected if you experience one or more of the following symptoms:
• Pain stimulated by cold or hot (especially hot) foods or liquids
• Pain that throbs/pulses like a heartbeat and/or radiates into your cheek/temple/TM joint/neck/other teeth
• Pain on biting (inflammation can jut the tooth out of occlusion)
• Pain that occurs spontaneously (with no stimulus like biting) and may come and go
• Pain that wakes and/or keeps you up at night
• Swelling and/or an irritated area of blood or pus (blister/bubble or draining/oozing) on the gum near the tooth in pain
Why Is My Tooth Nerve Inflamed?
A primary reason for nerve inflammation/infection is unchecked tooth decay. When bacteria remain on teeth for too long, they slowly eat through enamel (hard outside layer of the tooth). Once inside the enamel layer, bacteria rapidly burrow through dentin (softer inside-portion of the tooth) and enter the nerve chamber. They feast on the nerve. The nerve becomes inflamed and begins to die.
Another possible cause of nerve inflammation/pain is trauma. Facial impact during a car accident or sports injury can cause inflammation and eventual death of the nerve. Inflammation can even be precipitated by the trauma of routine dental work, especially in the case of a previously compromised tooth.
Dead nerve tissue is a source of nutrients for bacteria, and the warm, moist nerve canal provides an ideal breeding ground. The canal can harbor not only bacteria, but viruses and fungi as well. Eventually the bacteria/viruses/fungi can emerge through the end of the root, and an abscess appears as a black circle on a dental x-ray. Your body’s immune system will try to fight the abscess, and laser treatment and herbals/homeopathics can provide significant support; ozone injections can address infected bone, and antibiotics can tamp down symptoms (although they wreak havoc on your gut and immune system). The source of the infection, however, is ultimately inaccessible, buried in the tooth canal. As of this writing, viable options are limited to root canal or extraction.
So What Is Root Canal Treatment?
The dentist opens the tooth to expose the canal that contains the dying/dead nerve. The nerve tissue is removed, and the canal is cleaned as thoroughly as possible, given the potentially complicating factors of root curvature, calcification, and/or hidden canals. The tip of the root is sealed with a small amount of cement, and the canal is filled with a material called gutta-percha. (Guttapercha contains cadmium, but the more biologically compatible material, Endocal, is rarely used now because of unpredictable expansion properties.) The top of the tooth is restored with a ceramic onlay or crown to give the tooth strength.
(*NEVER place a porcelain-fused-to-metal crown on a root canalled tooth. See page on galvanic current.)
A healthy tooth consists of a hard outer layer called enamel. Enamel protects the softer, living dentin. At the center of the dentin is the pulp chamber, the home for the blood vessels and nerves.
Each tooth has one to four major canals. However, coming off the main canals are literally miles of microscopic accessory canals.
Accessory canals cannot be cleaned and filled with guttapercha as described above. Even the best endodontist can not clean microscopic accessory canals. Bacteria now trapped outside the main nerve chamber settle into accessory canals, virtually safe from the body’s immune system (as well as from traditional antibiotics). Ozone or laser used during root canal treatment can provide cleaner accessory canals, although neither ozone nor laser can guarantee permanent neutrality.
Bacteria in root canalled teeth can stay subclinical (you experience no symptoms) for years or even decades. As long as your immune system remains strong, bacteria that stray from the infected tooth are handled.
Bacteria in a root canalled tooth and their waste toxins do not stay local. They can travel through the lymphatic system and to surrounding tissues/bone as well as through the blood stream, reaching any organ, gland, or tissue. Nearly every chronic degenerative disease has been linked (not necessarily caused by, but certainly linked) to root canalled teeth: heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis/joint/rheumatic diseases, neurological diseases (including ALS, MS, Alzheimer’s), autoimmune diseases (Lupus and more), breast and prostate cancer.
It is not possible to predict how long a root canalled tooth, which is a dead organ (no blood flow), will remain neutral. Status is affected by such factors as oral and systemic pH, stress level, nutrition, fatigue, illness, trauma, oxidative stress, oral galvanic levels, etc. Even if a tooth does not clinically re-infect, bacteria in accessory canals can cause systemic issues, immediately or eventually.
So Now What?
Provided you do not have a condition listed above, you might view a root canal as a “get-you-by” procedure . . . maybe you are not emotionally ready to lose a tooth, or maybe the tooth provides an anchor for a bridge you are not ready to sacrifice; maybe you are mid orthodontic treatment, or maybe current replacement options for a front tooth are unacceptable, etc. Confer with your healthcare provider. Patients who choose a root canal usually do so as a temporary measure, with the expectation that dentistry will progress. If you do choose a root canal, ask your healthcare provider to check the status of the tooth yearly. Ozone treatment may assist in neutral root canal maintenance as can regular oil pulling (see page on oil pulling). Again, consult your healthcare provider.
NOTE: When a root canalled tooth does re-infect, we strongly recommend extraction. Dentistry can re-treat a re-infected root canal and temporarily remove symptoms, BUT we always recommend against re-treatment of a re-infected root canal for the sake of your health.