Root Canal Therapy

Endodontics is the branch of dentistry that deals with diseases of the tooth’s pulp. The pulp is found in the center of the tooth and in canals (called root canals) inside the root of each tooth. Pulp includes connective tissue, nerves and blood vessels. Pulp nourishes the tooth when it first emerges through the gum. Once the tooth matures, the pulp can be removed without destroying the tooth. That’s because each tooth also is nourished by a blood supply in the gums.

Removing the pulp is called endodontic treatment, but it is often referred to as root canal treatment or root canal therapy. Many people refer to pulp removal as “having a root canal.” Root canal treatments are quite common. In the United States, they save about 24 million teeth each year.

Root canal treatment is needed for two main reasons. The first is infection. An untreated cavity is a common cause of pulp infection. The decay destroys the enamel and dentin of the tooth until it reaches the pulp. Bacteria then infect the pulp. Antibiotics can’t get to infections inside teeth. The inflammation caused by the infection reduces the blood supply to the tooth. The reduced blood supply also keeps the pulp from healing.

The second reason for a root canal is damage to the pulp that can’t be fixed. A fracture in a tooth can damage the pulp. So can a less severe blow to the tooth (trauma), even if there’s no visible damage. Multiple fillings or other restorations on the same tooth also can damage the pulp.

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