I have a tooth that needs a root canal treatment. My wife thinks it is urgent and I need to get it checked right away. There is absolutely no pain from this and I think it can wait, especially since I’ve been laid off. If I absolutely had to, I could take money out of savings and deal with this, but I would rather wait until I had some income again. Is that possible? My wife is absolutely certain I am going to die from this if I don’t see a dentist.

David

Dear David,

Man in pain, grabbing his cheek in need of emergency dental care.

I cannot give you hard and fast numbers, but there are some general guidelines that apply here. First, though, let me explain why your wife is so worried. Believe it or not, there are still people who die from tooth infections. There was a fairly recent case that made the news about a truck driver who died from his tooth. He’d planned on getting an appointment but was too late. That being said, not every infected tooth has to be seen right away. It depends on if it is an active or latent tooth infection.

Signs of an active tooth infection:

  • Current or recent pain
  • Drainage by the infected tooth
  • A pimple on your gums

Any of the above tells me you need to be seen by your dentist and have the root canal treatment done. On the other hand, if your tooth has no pain at all and has not for a while, then you have a latent infection and can afford to put off your root canal treatment for a bit. If the pain returns, call your dentist right away to schedule an emergency appointment.

Is there a risk in waiting?

There are a couple of risks here. One is that the tooth infection blows up quickly causing you to need a more invasive treatment than would have been necessary. A second issue is that your tooth doesn’t hurt for years, but because of what was going on in the background you end up with root absorption and your tooth can no longer be saved. Then, instead of a simple root canal treatment, you end up with a tooth extraction and the cost of a tooth replacement that is main priority to consider, such as a dental implant.

If you’re in no pain whatsoever, wait and see if the job situation turns around. If it looks like this may be a long-term problem, go ahead and get the treatment while it is simple.

This blog is brought to you by Gilbert Dentist Dr. Matt Roper.