Your dentist may recommend root canal therapy or endodontic treatment for a painful tooth. This process involves removing inflamed or dead dental pulp – the soft tissue in the canal containing nerves, blood and lymph vessels that run through the centre of the tooth.
When the pulp cannot repair itself from disease or injury, it dies. A fracture in a tooth or a deep cavity commonly causes pulp death, as the pulp is exposed to bacteria found in the saliva. Once the pulp becomes infected, it is best to remove it before the infection spreads to the tooth and surrounding tissues, which will ultimately result in the loss of the whole tooth.
A fully-formed tooth can function normally without its pulp and can be kept indefinitely. After removing the pulp, the root canals are cleaned, sterilised and shaped to a form that can be completely sealed with a filling material to prevent further infection. The treatment can take several appointments, depending on how complex the tooth is, and how long the infection takes to clear.
Subsequently a crown or complex restoration to restore or protect the tooth may be necessary, as a tooth is more likely to fracture after undergoing treatment. Whilst at times complex and time-consuming, root canal treatment makes it possible to save a tooth that would otherwise have been lost.