An Overview of Root Canals

Root canal therapy is a treatment used to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected.

Root canal therapy is performed when the pulp which is composed of nerves and blood vessels in the tooth becomes infected or damaged. During root canal therapy, the pulp is removed, and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and sealed.

People fear root canals because they assume they are painful. Actually, most people report that the procedure itself is no more painful than having a filling placed. The discomfort experienced in the period leading up to seeking dental care is truly painful, not the procedure itself.

What Is Dental Pulp?

The pulp or pulp chamber is the soft area within the center of the tooth and contains the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue. The tooth’s nerve is in the “root” or “legs” of the tooth. The root canals travel from the tip of the tooth’s root into the pulp chamber.

A tooth’s nerve is not vitally important to a tooth’s health and function after the tooth has emerged through the gums. Its only function is sensory — to provide the sensation of heat or cold. The presence or absence of a nerve will not affect the day-to-day functioning of the tooth.

Why Does the Pulp Need to Be Removed?

When pulp is damaged, it breaks down, and bacteria begin to multiply within the pulp chamber. The bacteria and other dying pulp remnants can cause an infection or abscessed tooth. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket that forms at the end of a tooth’s root. In addition to an abscess, an infection in the root canal of a tooth can cause:

Swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head

Bone loss around the tip of the root

Drainage problems extending outward from the root. A hole can occur through the side of the tooth, with drainage into the gums or through the cheek into the skin.

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