Your teeth are primarily made of dentin, a bone-like substance that is covered by an outer layer of enamel. In the middle of the tooth is the pulp that contains the nerves and blood vessels that nourish the tooth.
When the pulp becomes infected or damaged by a fracture or some other trauma, your dentist may recommend a root canal treatment. Not only are such infections painful, but if left untreated, the infection in the pulp can spread to the bone and cause an abscess. Ultimately the tooth may need to be removed. Root canal therapy can save the tooth and avoid the need for an extraction.
Although the blood vessels in the pulp feed and nourish the tooth, a mature tooth can live without the pulp because it also receives nourishment from blood vessels in the gums surrounding the tooth.
If the pulp is infected or damaged, your dentist or a root canal specialist called an endodontist will complete a root canal treatment to save the tooth. Root canal treatment consists of removing the infected or damaged pulp and filling the root canal with an inert filling such as gutta percha. Your dentist will drill into the tooth from the crown to gain access to the pulp cavity. The infected material will be removed and the infection will be treated.
Then, the pulp cavity will be filled and sealed. After most root canals, a cap will be placed to help protect the tooth although in some cases a filling will be used. A successful root canal is a permanent restoration and the tooth can last a lifetime.
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