Root canal treatment (also called root canal therapy or RCT) is a procedure that’s performed to remove decayed or damaged tissue located in the interior portion of the tooth called the pulp. The pulp contains the nerves and connective tissues that support the tooth and help keep it healthy. The pulp portion extends from the center of the tooth to the jaw through narrow channels or canals. When the pulp becomes infected, it can threaten the health of the tooth, significantly increasing the risk of fractures, tooth loss and even widespread infection. Root canal treats this deep tissue while avoiding the need for an extraction. In some root canals, the root itself is removed to prevent the spread of infection and preserve the natural tooth.
Root canal uses techniques similar to those used in a regular filling procedure, with special tools to reach the deeper portions of the tooth. Once the damaged pulp is removed, the canals are cleaned and sealed, then a special rubber-like filling material is used to fill the cavity and to help stabilize the tooth. A tooth treated with a root canal is weaker than a healthy tooth, so it must be covered with a protective crown or filling to provide additional strength and to prevent breakage. Root canal procedures can be performed using local anesthetics or sedation to enable the patient to remain completely comfortable and relaxed.
Once the root canal is complete, there may be some residual soreness after the anesthetic wears off. Discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice packs to help resolve any minor swelling that can occur.
In almost all cases, it’s better to preserve a natural tooth than to have it pulled. Preserving the natural tooth avoids bite balance problems that can cause uneven tooth wear and even increase the risk of decay and additional tooth loss. Preserving the tooth means there’s no adjustment period like there can be with a partial denture or bridge, and root canal treatment is also usually much less costly than having an extraction followed by a restoration.