A root canal procedure is performed when the soft tissue—also known as the pulp—inside of the tooth becomes inflamed or infected. When the pulp becomes infected, it is usually caused by an untreated deep cavity or tooth fracture. Damaged or dead pulp causes blood flow and cellular activity to flow towards the infected area, which ultimately causes pain. Most patients in need of a root canal experience pain when biting down, chewing, and/or ingesting hot or cold foods and drinks.
The goal of a root canal procedure is to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed—this is a much better alternative than extracting the tooth. Tooth extractions may seem like a simpler solution on paper, but the void left behind by the extracted tooth needs to be filled otherwise teeth can shift. It is much easier to save an existing tooth than it is to add a dental implant or bridge.
During a root canal procedure, your dentist will save the dead or damaged pulp in the tooth by cleaning out the diseased pulp and reshaping the canal. He or she will then fill the canal with a substance called gutta-percha to prevent recontamination of the tooth. Finally, they will seal the tooth and you can return to normal chewing activities almost immediately following the procedure. Depending on the severity of your condition, most root canals can be performed in one office-visit.