Root canal treatment is a procedure used to treat teeth that have dead or irreversibly inflamed pulps (nerves). This type of damage to the pulp is most often the result of bacteria affecting the pulp through deep decay (cavities), leaking crowns or fillings or teeth that have fractures. When the bacteria travel through the pulp and into the bone surrounding the root, an abscess (acute infection) can occur. Short of that, the presence of bacteria deep within the tooth, close to the pulp, can cause irreversible inflammation and chronic discomfort or pain in the pulp. Teeth that have been knocked loose can also develop pulpal inflammation or pulpal death. A significant number of teeth with very deep cavities and/or fillings will eventually need root canal treatment.
Root canal treatment removes any remaining pulp from inside the tooth, thoroughly cleans and disinfects the space previously occupied by the pulp (this area is called the root canal/s and pulp chamber) and seals this space so that bacteria can no longer enter the bone surrounding the tooth root. This is usually accomplished in one or two appointments. Occasionally, the internal shape of the canals will make it impossible to adequately clean and seal them from inside. In these cases, an additional surgical procedure can often be done to successfully seal the root canal from the bone side of the root.
Once the root canal has been sealed (filled), the remainder of the tooth will need to be treated with additional procedures such as reinforcing posts and fillings or crowns to make the tooth strong enough to endure the forces of chewing. Once root canal treatment is successfully completed and the tooth is adequately reinforced and restored, its life expectancy is comparable to a tooth that has been free of disease or injury.