Advertisement

What is a root canal?

A root canal is basically the cleaning and shaping and disinfection of the inside of the tooth root. The space where the nerve and blood vessels were is then sealed so that bacteria cannot re-infect the space. It is very important to have the tooth properly restored, usually with a crown, to keep bacteria from re-entering that space and re-infection the area. With modern technology this is now a much more comfortable procedure then it use to be!

A root canal is done when the pulp -- the live tissue inside your tooth -- dies due to trauma or decay, or becomes infected when bacteria are introduced. Root canal therapy is when the dentist opens the tooth and removes the damaged pulp. The canal is cleaned and instrumented smooth, then filled with a special filling material. This is the only choice to keep your tooth. As long as the tooth has good bone support, and enough tooth structure left to restore it, root canal therapy will be recommended to maintain the tooth in your mouth.
During root canal treatment, your dentist or endodontist (a dentist who specializes in treating the insides of teeth) removes the diseased pulp. Root canal treatment is necessary when the pulp (soft tissue inside your teeth containing blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue) becomes inflamed or diseased. The pulp chamber and root canal(s) of the tooth are then cleaned and sealed.

If the infected pulp is not removed, pain and swelling can result, and your tooth may have to be removed.
A root canal is the process in which a dentist removes diseased or damaged soft tissue from inside the hard outer structure of the tooth. This area is then cleansed to disinfect the tooth to prevent future infection. This soft tissue (nerves, blood vessels) is contained within the root structure of your tooth. The roots of the tooth are the portion of the hard tooth structure typically found mostly below the gumline that anchors the tooth in your jaw bone. The area where the soft tissue once was is then replaced with a special filling material, and then covered with another type of filling material that is similar to that used when you have a cavity.

While many General Dentists, myself included, regularly perform root canal treatment consistently with predictable results, there is a specialist in the dental field called an Endodontist that has received a University-based advanced education program in root canal therapy.

Root canal is referred to as endodontics. "Endo" is the Greek word for inside and "odont" is Greek for tooth. Therefore it is the treatment inside the tooth. I side the tooth under the white enamel and a hard layer called the dentin, is soft tissue called the pulp. It contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of roots. When the nerve tissue becomes infected, due to decay or trauma, it can cause pain. The root canal procedure removes the infected tissue and the canal is filled with a filling material called gutta percha.

A root canal is typically a last-resort treatment to save a tooth. The tooth is hollowed out, and the pulp and nerves are removed, and the tooth is sealed (the name of the procedure comes from filling the canals in the roots.) Most times, a crown is then placed over the tooth to protect it. A root canal will generally save a tooth, and with proper care, will last a lifetime.

A simple answer is that a root canal is the removal of a painful or unhealthy nerve from a tooth, thus allowing the tooth to remain in the mouth. Modern technology has revealed, however, that the anatomy of the nerve or pulp system is more complex than was originally thought. Rather than the canal of a tooth being singular and straight, like a highway, some canals more closely resemble the freeways of Los Angeles, with variable routes, connectors, and off ramps! Fortunately, the technology for successfully performing root canals has made remarkable advances. Today, root canal systems can be better visualized and treated with more certainty than in any other past age.

Root canal therapy is a procedure performed by a dentist when there is pain or infection in a tooth. The process involves removing all soft tissue inside the tooth and thoroughly cleansing and shaping the inside of the roots to accommodate a biocompatible filling material to seal the tooth from the oral bacteria in the mouth and the bone. Once a root canal is performed, the tooth needs to be restored in many cases with a post and a crown.

Strictly speaking, the root canal is the space in the center of the tooth where the pulp resides. Many times the pulp of the tooth becomes inflamed, infected or dies. In those cases, the root canal space is cleansed, shaped, disinfected and a solid filling replaces the pulp returning the tooth to comfortable, natural function, free from infection.

This process of cleansing and filling the root canal space is properly called endodontic therapy, but popularly the entire process is termed "root canal" for short.

A root canal is a filling of the root of the tooth. Just like a regular filling, the tooth is numbed, prepared, and filled. Root canals are used to save teeth when the decay has extended into the nerve (pulp) of the tooth.
A root canal is a procedure where the pulp (nerve and blood supply) of the tooth is removed and replaced with a material that seals the inside of the tooth from bacteria. 
A root canal procedure removes the remnants of the nerves and blood vessels that normally are located in the center of the tooth. This eliminates the pain, the infection and allows the tooth to be retained. Before the process was developed,the only way to get rid of the pain and infection, was to remove the tooth

The term “Root Canal Treatment” refers to the removal of bad tooth structure and the affected pulp (blood vessels & nerves) of the tooth inside each root of the tooth. This usually needs to be done on a tooth that has been damaged by decay, trauma, or a fracture. Special  instruments are used to clean out each canal and then each canal is filled with a special substance. 

Every healthy tooth has living tissue within it. When this tissue is injured due to trauma or infection (such as deep decay) the living part may "die". Dead tissue is gangrene and toxic to the rest of the body. Because to access is limited to the small opening at the tip of the root, the problems are usually local; pain, swelling with possible spread of infection. Root canal therapy consists of making a small hole through the top of the tooth and completely removing all of the infected tissue inside of the root. Once removed, the empty space (the canal) is filled with a soft inert material to completely seal the inside of the root space.

With new technology this procedure can often be completed in one visit although more visits are sometimes needed. Root canal is rarely painful during treatment, but the tooth is often sore for a few days -- usually nothing a few Advil or Tylenol can't handle. Most important is the repair of the top of the tooth. Although the pain from before treatment may be gone, the tooth can still decay. In my experience this is one of the main reasons for loss of a tooth that has had root canal. Let your dentist advise you of the best treatment, whether a filling or a crown.

Simply put, a root canal is a filling for the inside of the tooth. When the nerve of a tooth is lifeless or infected, a root canal procedure cleans out the inside of the root and then the canals are filled with a rubbery material called gutta percha. Often times a tooth will need a crown/cap, because the tooth has been hollowed out and dehydrated, making it brittle.

Just hearing the word root canal will make many patients cringe. Society has given root canal therapy a horrible reputation when it fact root canal therapy is a relatively easy painless procedure performed by your dentist or endodontist (root canal specialist). The entire procedure takes between one to two hours. Patients often have the option of having their root canal done with local anesthesia, “novacaine”, Nitrous Oxide, Oral or Intravenous sedation. All you feel is the same sensation as someone squeezing your hand.

Inside your hollow tooth is pink flesh identical to the flesh just below the skin that contains nerves, arteries and veins. When you cut your finger you don’t say your nerve is exposed. If you have an infection under your skin from a splinter it hurts but your nerve is not exposed. Root canal therapy is analogous to removing the splinter from your finger or toe. The infected flesh or pulp is removed and then the tooth’s canal system filled to prevent future infection. According to recent studies published in the Journal of the American Dental Association root canal therapy is 90% successful and when properly cared for should last a lifetime.
Mike McIlwain
Dentist

A root canal is a procedure that takes the nerve, blood vessels and pulp out of a tooth due to an infection or pain. The dentist drills through the tooth structure to get into the pulp or inside of the tooth. They use fine instruments to clean the inside of the tooth or the root canal or canals. They put in a material that keeps the tooth clean of bacteria to allow the tooth to stay in the mouth instead of having to extract the tooth.

A root canal is one of the more serious treatments for severe cavities. Root canals are given when the cavity has progressed to the innermost part of the tooth, either the dentin or the root. The pain that comes with a root cavity is so severe that in order to stop the pain, the pulp must be removed and replaced with a filling.


Picture of Teeth Anatomy

Continue Learning about Cavities

What types of food should someone with cavities avoid?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
If you have cavities it's a good idea to avoid very hard and very sticky foods. These foods can get ...
More Answers
When should I seek immediate help if I have dental caries?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
Dental caries are cavities, and you may or may not experience any pain or symptoms. If you do experi...
More Answers
Why are adults at risk for tooth decay?
William M. Litaker Jr., DDSWilliam M. Litaker Jr., DDS
Adults can be at risk for tooth decay. Many have fillings in their teeth which may be failing. Filli...
More Answers
Are cavities contagious?
Megan  Chin, DDSMegan Chin, DDS
Cavity-causing bacteria can be transferred easily between people, in a process called vertical trans...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.