When teeth are not cleaned with good brushing and flossing habits, plaque and food debris are left on the surfaces. Bacteria found in plaque produce acids that can eat away at tooth enamel, leading to cavities. Dental fillings are usually sufficient treatment for cavities, and no further treatment is needed. However, if the decay is allowed to worsen, it could potentially reach the pulp, the soft core of a tooth. The pulp is where the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth are contained, and if tooth decay reaches it, an abscess could form. A root canal removes the decay and fills in the space to restore function to the tooth. A tooth could also become affected by an injury, such as a fracture or crack, or from repeated dental procedures that disturb the tissue.
X-rays will be needed to show the tooth below the gum line, the tooth roots, and the surrounding bone. An anesthetic will be used on the site to minimize pain and discomfort. A sheet of latex rubber called a dental dam will be placed around the tooth to keep it dry and clean during the procedure; there may be viruses and/or bacteria located in the mouth that can affect the success of the procedure. The dentist will access the inside of the tooth by creating a hole through the top (the crown). The pulp will then be removed, along with all decay that may be present. The inside of the tooth will be cleaned and reshaped to discourage bacteria from accumulating there again. The canal will be filled with a biocompatible filling material to restore the structural integrity and allow the tooth to be used as normal again. Once filled, the tooth will be sealed and is normally covered with a dental crown.
Many people feel anxious at the thought of having to get a root canal done because they believe that it is a painful procedure. The truth is, the goal of the treatment is to relieve pain and restore the tooth to health. Because an anesthetic is used, the patient feels very little as their tooth is being saved.