To understand a root canal procedure, it helps to know about the anatomy of the tooth. Inside the tooth, under the white enamel and a hard layer called the dentin, is a soft tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue, and helps to grow the root of your tooth during development. In a fully developed tooth, the tooth can survive without the pulp because the tooth continues to be nourished by the tissues surrounding it.
Endodontic treatment treats the inside of the tooth. Endodontic treatment is necessary when the pulp becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes: deep decay, repeated dental procedures on the tooth, faulty crowns, or a crack or chip in the tooth. In addition, trauma to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks. If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess.
In a root canal, the endodontist removes the inflamed or infected pulp from the tooth. It is then carefully cleaned and disinfected before being filled and sealed with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. The tooth is then restored with either a crown or a filling for protection and will function as a normal tooth.
Despite jokes about root canals, the procedure is very similar to a routine filling and can be completed in one to two appointments (minus crown treatment). The length depends on your tooth condition and personal circumstances, but overall you can expect a very comfortable experience before, during, and after the appointment.
A natural tooth has more efficient chewing capabilities in addition to normal biting forces and sensations. The tooth also looks more natural and protects other teeth from excessive wear or strain.
Endodontic treatments help maintain a natural smile and allow you to eat the foods you love. With proper care, most teeth that have root canal treatment can last an entire lifetime.