What is a Root Canal?

A root canal is a procedure used to repair and save a tooth that is severely decayed or has become infected. During the process, the nerve and pulp are removed from the tooth and the inside is then cleaned and sealed. If a root canal is not taken care of and treatment is not performed, the tissue around the tooth will most likely become infected and abscesses can form.

A root canal describes the natural cavity in the center of a tooth. The pulp or pulp chamber is located within the root canal and is a very soft tissue. The tooth's nerve is within the root canal. A tooth's health is important, but its function is sensory. It is to provide sensation of hot or cold. The presence or absence of a tooth's nerve will not have a great impact on the function of the tooth.

When nerve tissue or pulp becomes damaged, the bacterium begins to break down and multiply within the pulp chamber and can cause infection or abscesses. An abscess is a puss filled pocked that forms at the ends of a tooth and occurs if an infection spreads past the ends of the roots of a tooth. An infection in the root canal may cause the following:

  • Bone loss around the tip of the root
  • Swelling that may spread to areas in the face, neck, or head
  • Drainage problems—a hole may form through the side of the tooth and drain into the gums or cheek and run to the skin.

Signs That Indicate You May Need a Root Canal

Sometimes it may be difficult to determine if you need a root canal. Some of the signs that you may need a root canal include:

  • Extreme toothache pain while chewing or any application of pressure
  • Consistent pain or sensitivity to heat or cold temperatures after the source of the temperatures have been taken away
  • Discoloration of the tooth (over time)
  • Swelling or tenderness in the surrounding gums
  • A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums
    • Root canals can be very painful, if left untreated you may risk losing the infected tooth. You also run the risk of the infection spreading to other teeth. If you suspect a root canal, it is important that you see a dentist as soon as possible.