Endodontic Therapy—or Root Canal Therapy—is a group of procedures used to remove and permanently replace infected and/or contaminated tissue from a tooth.
Teeth have central hollow areas containing the tooth’s nerves, blood vessels and cellular and connective tissues (collectively known as pulp). Root Canal therapy is the removal of the living tissues/structures from the canals, followed by shaping, cleaning and decontamination. The empty canals are then filled with an inert material and sealed. Removal of the blood supply and other tissues eliminates feeling from the tooth and can prevent further tooth deterioration or future microbial invasion (assuming good oral hygiene is practiced).
Root Canals are commonly used to treat Pulpal Inflammation and Pulpal Necrosis. Pulpal inflammation (Pulpitis) is a condition in which the pulpal tissue is inflamed, causing mild to severe pain. Pulpitis doesn’t automatically require a root canal—when mild it can sometimes be reversed. But when the inflammation is severe and irreversible a root canal can be done to end the pain while saving the tooth. Pulpal Necrosis is a condition in which the pulpal tissue has died and is contaminating the canal. This condition can be symptom-free or characterized by pain and facial swelling. Pulpal Necrosis cannot be reversed.
Root Canals are also used in the process of crowning teeth which lack enough stable tissue for a crown to adhere to. Posts can be placed in the canals and the crowns are then connected to the posts.
Root canals require skilled pain management which can render them completely painless, although there may be short-term sensitivity to the tooth area after the procedures involved are completed. Pain management is even more critical if your tooth pulp is inflamed, abcessed and painful. This might require additional steps to first alleviate the pain and reduce the infection. Once stabilized effective use of appropriate anesthetics should enable a pain-free procedure.
Crowns are occassionally indicated to restore the tooth after a root canal is performed, offering long-term protection to the remaining tooth.