A dentist or endodontist uses root canal treatment to find the cause of and then treat problems related to the tooth's soft core, the dental pulp. In the past, teeth with diseased or injured pulps often were removed. Today, root canal treatment has given dentists a safe way of saving teeth.
The pulp is the soft tissue that contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. It lies within the tooth and extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the root in the bone of the jaw.
When the pulp is diseased or injured and cannot repair itself, it dies. The most common cause of pulp death is a cracked tooth or a deep cavity. Both of these problems can let bacteria enter the pulp, causing an infection inside the tooth.
Left without treatment, pus builds up at the root tip in the jawbone forming a "pus-pocket" called an abscess. An abscess can cause damage to the bone around the teeth. When the infected pulp is not removed, pain and swelling can result. Certain byproducts of the infection can injure the jaw bones. Without treatment, your tooth may have to be removed.
Root canal treatment often involves from one to three visits. During treatment, a general dentist or endodontist (a dentist who specializes in problems of the pulp) removes the diseased pulp. The pulp chamber and root canal of the tooth are then cleaned and sealed.
A restored tooth can last a lifetime if you continue to care for your teeth and gums. However, regular checkups are necessary. As long as the root of a treated tooth is nourished by the tissues around it, your tooth will remain healthy.