To describe what happens during root canal treatment, it helps to first explain about the pulp of a tooth. There are three major components to a tooth: enamel (the thin outer shell), dentin (the majority of a tooth) and pulp, which is in the center of each tooth and comprises the nerves and blood vessels. The pulp is living, vital tissue, and is necessary to give feedback about pressure, pain, and sensation. Though pulp is beneficial, teeth are able to remain in place without any pulp because of the calcified component of dentin and enamel.
Therefore, if the pulp of a tooth becomes inflamed, infected, or dead, dentists can remove the diseased tissue and replace it with an inert (non-reactive) material, leaving the tooth in place. This is called root canal therapy often called a root canal.
Each root canal may take one or more visits to complete. Larger teeth take more time because they have more canals, which are thin channels inside the roots that contain the pulp. The tooth and surrounding area will be made numb, and sometimes a rubber dam is placed to help keep the tooth clean and dry during the procedure.
The dentist then uses a dental drill and specialized instruments to carefully clean the pulp out of the tooth. Numerous radiographs (x-rays) are taken to determine the shape and length of the root. Once the canals have been cleaned out, the inside of the tooth is washed with cleansing solutions and dried carefully. A natural material called gutta percha is placed inside the canals to fill the empty spaces. Gutta percha is used because it does not react with the surrounding tissues and can be gently warmed to fully adapt to the space.
After the root canal is completed, the tooth is sealed and built back up with a filling. Some teeth that have root canals require a crown to be placed afterwards, since they are prone to fracture and usually had large cavities before requiring the root canal.
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