Root canal treatment — also called endodontics (“endo”: inside, “dont”: tooth) — is a set of specialized procedures designed to treat problems of the soft pulp (nerve) tissue inside the tooth. While some mistakenly think of it as an unusually painful treatment, in most cases the procedure is no more uncomfortable than getting a filling. It’s actually one of the most effective ways of relieving some kinds of tooth pain.
A root canal procedure becomes necessary when infection or inflammation develops in the pulp tissue of the tooth. Pulp tissue consists of blood vessels, connective tissue and nerve cells — which explains why a problem here may cause you to feel intense pain. In time, the pain may go away, at least temporarily. Without treatment, however, the infection won’t subside. It can lead to a dental abscess, and may even contribute to systemic problems in other parts of the body.
One potential cause of infection is deep tooth decay. Untreated dental cavities eventually allow bacteria to work their way down to the centre of the tooth, where they may infect the pulp tissue. Another path by which bacteria may come into contact with pulp is via chipped or cracked teeth. Any opening in the protective enamel coating has the potential to allow bacteria access to the tooth’s pulp.
Trauma to the tooth — the kind that might result from a sports injury or automobile accident, for example — is also a major cause of pulp tissue damage. In this case, it’s essential to seek treatment immediately, both to try and save the tooth, and to prevent future problems.
In some cases, extensive dental work itself may cause damage to the pulp tissue that will need to be treated via a root canal. Having multiple fillings or restorations on the same tooth increases the chances of this type of injury. Occasionally, common procedures such as crown preparation or orthodontics may eventually lead to root canal problems.
Do not wait until your tooth becomes so painful that it keeps you up at night. Come in for an examination as soon as you feel discomfort in your teeth.