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Everything You Should Know About Root Canal Reinfections & Retreatment

Root canal reinfection isn’t common, but it isn’t unheard of either. Root canal procedures are overwhelmingly successful; however, a previously treated tooth can become reinfected days, weeks, months, or even years after the initial procedure. If you have had a root canal in the past or are expecting one in the future, you should know what causes root canal reinfections so that you can be better prepared to prevent one from occurring to you.

The root canal specialists at Central Ohio Endodontics want to share their knowledge with you so that you can be better prepared to prevent reinfection and the need for a retreatment procedure in the future.

Can a Root Canal Become Reinfected?

Modern endodontic practices have increased the success rate of root canal treatment to an astounding 95%. The chance of a root canal tooth becoming reinfected is slim, but not impossible. Reinfections can occur for several reasons, including a mistake during the initial procedure or a tooth injury years after treatment, but the source always boils down to the presence of bacteria. If bacteria becomes re-colonized within a root canal, then re-infection can occur.

What Causes Root Canal Reinfections?

In understanding what causes root canal reinfections, you first need to understand what a root canal is. Root canal therapy is a procedure in which an endodontist removes the infected pulp inside the roots of a tooth and disinfects the inner canals before refilling and sealing the tooth. The benefit of root canal treatment is that it allows the patient to keep their natural tooth.

Tooth canals are small, and it can be challenging for a dental professional to remove all the infected material and bacteria from the inside of the tooth. Infected material left behind is a primary cause of root canal reinfections. These types of reinfections occur relatively soon after the initial procedure.

Another potential cause of reinfection is the introduction of bacteria to the tooth after the root canal treatment but before the final filling is complete. If bacteria infiltrate the tooth prior to filling, they will become trapped inside and multiply until a new infection takes hold. This cause of reinfection also occurs relatively quickly after the initial treatment.

The final causes of root canal reinfections are new cavities or injuries (such as cracks or fractures) that form on the previously treated tooth. Cavities and injuries expose the inside of the tooth to all sorts of bacteria, which can quite quickly turn into an infection. This type of reinfection can occur weeks, months, or years after the initial root canal treatment.

Symptoms of a Reinfected Root Canal

The symptoms of reinfection are more or less the same symptoms surrounding the initial infection. Sensitivity and mild pain are expected immediately after a root canal, but if the pain persists or goes away and returns at a later date, it could indicate reinfection.

In addition to pain, some other symptoms of a reinfected root canal include things like yellow or green discharge, swollen gums, a dull persistent ache, or a foul taste and bad breath. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact your local dental professional as soon as possible to increase the likelihood of saving the reinfected tooth with a retreatment procedure.

What is Root Canal Retreatment?

A root canal retreatment is similar to the initial root canal procedure. The only difference is that instead of removing the natural tooth structure and cleaning the infected tissue from the root canals, the endodontist removes the filling material used in the first root canal. After removing the root fillings, your dental specialist will clean the canals and re-seal the tooth in preparation for a new filling. Root canal retreatment serves the same purpose as the initial procedure and allows the patient to keep their natural tooth. In some cases, retreatment is impossible, and the reinfected tooth must be extracted.

What to Do if a Root Canal Becomes Reinfected

If you suspect your root canal tooth has become reinfected, you need to contact your primary dental care provider. A dentist will take x-rays and run any necessary tests to determine if the tooth has become reinfected. If it has, they will refer you to an endodontist who will decide whether retreatment or extraction is the best plan for your dental health. For more information on root canal reinfections and retreatment, contact the knowledgeable staff at Central Ohio Endodontics.