What is a root canal?
A root canal refers to two different things: the inner part of the tooth; and a procedure to remedy the infected pulp of a tooth. First off, a tooth is made up of several layers. The exposed white part of the tooth is made of a substance called enamel. Underneath the white enamel of our teeth is a material called dentin which acts as a protective barrier between the hard enamel and the softer inside of a tooth known as the pulp. Pulp is made up of connective tissue, blood vessels, and nerves that make their way down the inner root of the tooth, known as the root canal system. If a cavity makes its way through the enamel and dentin, the pulp can become infected, leading to pain and the possibility of needing a root canal procedure to effectively remove the pulp and disinfect the inside of the tooth.
Why do I need a root canal?
If the pulp of the tooth becomes infected or inflamed, it is possible you will need a root canal procedure because, if left unattended, the tooth will likely form an abscess. This occurs when the pulp dies and leaves a pocket of infection at the bottom of the root which makes its way through the jaw bone and into the gums. This will not heal on its own. The infection can then spread to other parts of the body causing significant problems, and in rare instances – death. Fortunately, an adult tooth can still be fully functional after the removal of the pulp during a root canal. The procedure cleans out the inside of the tooth, which is then filled and capped so it still can be used to chew on for years to come.
Why are people so afraid of root canals? And why shouldn’t they be?
Root canals get a bad rap, but the procedure itself is similar to having a cavity filled. With advances in technology, anesthetics and techniques, the procedure is nearly painless. Often the pain leading up to needing a root canal is far worse than the procedure itself. When the pulp is infected or the tooth has abscessed, the pain can be intense. Just another reason why regular visits to the dentist are so important.