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Dentist damaged my son’s tooth while removing his orthodontic retainer. Is a root canal necessary?

My son wore braces for a year and half and has had a fixed retainer on the inside of his lower front teeth for the past three years. The dentist was trying to remove the retainer recently, and it seems that he damaged one of my son’s lower teeth in the process. The tooth began hurting after the retainer was removed and it has since started to turn gray. My son can’t bite on that tooth and he says that it hurts when he wears his retainer. The tooth is also extremely sensitive, even to just plain water.

We went back to the dentist to get it looked at and he took an X-ray and did a cold test. He said that he suspects that the tooth is dying and may need a root canal. The dentist then referred us to an endodontist for specialist treatment. I’m surprised that the tooth might need root canal treatment.

Is there any chance it’s simply bruised and only needs a little time to heal?

— Sam

Hi Sam,

Unfortunately, when a tooth dies, a root canal is necessary to stop the pain and prevent the infection from spreading. A tooth is filled with living tissue that swells in response to infection and injury, just like tissue anywhere else in the body. The problem with teeth, however, is that there’s no room for the inflamed tissue to swell as it’s confined to the inside of the hard outer layers of the tooth.

If your son’s tooth is truly dead or dying, then a root canal is the best treatment to help him get relief.

A root canal is the only treatment option once the inside of a tooth is compromised by damage or decay.

And based upon the description of your son’s symptoms (namely, sensitivity to biting and cold temperatures) it sounds like your dentist did the right thing by referring your son to an endodontic specialist for a more definitive diagnosis. Those are classic signs of a dying tooth.

It’s worth noting that removing a permanent retainer should be a straightforward procedure with very little risk of damaging the teeth. If your dentist truly caused the injury to your son’s tooth, then he should pay for the root canal to repair the damage.

Additionally, while braces and retainers are only rarely connected with complications like the one your son has experienced, some people find that they get excellent results when they choose an alternative to traditional orthodontic treatment.

If you, your son, or anyone else in your family needs to see an orthodontist in the future, you might want to consider exploring a method such as facial growth guidance.

This post was published on behalf of Dr. Heng Lim, a whole health dentist in Owasso.