I think most people would agree that the last thing they want to hear from their dentist is “that tooth needs a root canal”. Root canals have a history of being painful and uncomfortable and usually requiring multiple lengthy appointments to complete. The other problem with root canal treatment is that many people do not fully understand why a particular tooth needs one in the first place. Luckily with dental advancements, today root canals can usually be completed in one visit and with the proper anesthesia, pain free as well. This article is going to focus on one particular reason why a tooth would need a root canal. You can read my page about root canals to learn about different reasons a tooth may need root canal treatment. You may also refer to a post I wrote regarding a tooth with a large cavity and why it needed a root canal. Today’s post is a little different.
The patient presented for a filling on his first bicuspid on the top left. He had no pain or problems otherwise. As I lifted his lip to apply the topical numbing gel I noticed a red spot on his gums in front of his canine tooth. This tooth is one forward to the one with the cavity that we had planned to fill. I asked him if he was aware of this red area. He said that over time it had come and gone. It was not there when he was last in and didn’t think to mention it.
The red area looked consistent with a fistula. A fistula is a tunnel or channel that is created when an infection works its way from the source (usually a tooth) to the surface of the gums or tissue. I tested the teeth surrounding the affected area. All tested normally except the canine tooth (eye tooth), which did not respond to cold. Most teeth respond to cold stimulus and if they don’t, it means that the tooth is dead or already root canaled. There can also be false negatives. It makes more sense that the tooth we were about to fill would be causing this infection since it had a large filling and a history of being filled multiple times.
My next step was to trace the fistula to get a better idea of the source of the infection. I inserted a gutta percha cone (blue) into the opening of the fistula and pushed it in as far as it would go without resistance. An x-ray was taken to confirm that the tip of the eye tooth was the source of the infection.