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What is a Root Canal?

Root Canal

Root Canal or endodontic treatment, is a specialty procedure that treats infected “pulp tissue,” or the inner area of teeth. The term “endodontic” refers to a specialty field dedicated to the study of dental pulp diseases. If left untreated, the damaged pulp tissue can cause severe toothache and/or become infected with a dental abscess (a buildup of pus from bacterial infection). A root canal procedures are often very successful and fairly painless.

Bacterial Infection

An endodontist (a root canal specialist) performs a root canal when the inside of a tooth has become inflamed or infected with dental decay. This infection can occur as a result of bacteria from food entering inside the cracks of a damaged tooth—where brushing is unfeasible. Common causes of a cracked tooth include poor dental care that compromises tooth structure, chewing or biting hard foods, or extensive dental procedures that involve cutting or reshaping teeth.

The Role of Dental Pulp

Although commonly referred to as a tooth’s “nerve,” pulp tissue primarily consists of blood vessels that function like ordinary body tissues. In healthy teeth, dental pulp acts as a sensory signal: the nerves inside the pulp send information to the dentin (the bony tissue directly underneath the enamel or outer tooth layer) when there are temperature changes in the tooth. For instance, pulp tissues will signal mild throbbing or pain when biting directly into cold ice cream.

Root Canal Treatment

Treating a root canal involves surgically removing the infected or swollen dental pulp tissue as well as cleansing the tooth area of bacteria. After sterilization, the canal is sealed with a non-soluble filling material, usually a rubber substance called “gutta percha.” The sealant used in a root canal is biologically compatible with tooth composition—and if properly administered, a root canal procedure will keep bacteria from causing dental abscess.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.