When the pulp at the core of a tooth becomes infected or damaged, a root canal procedure can be performed to save the tooth and prevent the need for an extraction.
Inside each tooth lies a slender strand of 'pulp', which contains nerves and blood vessels that provide nutrients to the tooth. If the pulp becomes infected or injured, the tooth’s nerves die, and without endodontic treatment the tooth dies as well.
Endodontic treatment (a root canal) is needed to prevent the infection from spreading into the tissues of the face. If this happens there will sometimes be facial or gum swelling and pain.
During root canals, we remove infection within the tooth and fill the space with a plastic filling material. The only other option would be to have the tooth extracted. Extractions are generally considered a last resort, and are only done of the tooth cannot be saved.
During a root canal, the tooth is numbed (with anesthetic), and a small opening is made through the biting surface of the tooth to access the infected material and relieve the pressure caused by the infection.
The infected material is then removed and the pulp chamber is sealed. Most of the time, a root canal is a relatively simple, one-visit procedure with little or no discomfort. The length of procedure varies depending on the number of roots and canals the particular tooth has.
The treated tooth is then non-vital, which means it is more fragile/brittle than a healthy tooth and a crown/cap is generally recommended to prevent it from fracturing.